US Stamps

When politics reigned in selecting postmasters

Mar 3, 2023, 12 PM
In this letter dated July 20, 1898, Charles F. Shelland is appointed postmaster of Oneonta, N.Y. The letter is signed by the United States postmaster general, and the appointment was by the president.

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

How were postmasters installed in 1898? A July 20, 1898, letter from the United States postmaster general to the presumptive appointee for Oneonta, N.Y., gives us a helpful glimpse of the process.

The letter, which is shown with this column, announces to Charles F. Shelland his appointment as the Oneonta postmaster by the president of the United States, but then levies the following requirements before he can take office:

“In that capacity you will please execute the inclosed bond and cause it to be executed by two or more sufficient sureties in the presence of suitable witnesses, the sufficiency of the sureties to be certified by a qualified magistrate and approved by me.

“You will also please take and subscribe the oath or affirmation of office inclosed, before an officer designated in the note appended thereto, who will certify the same.”

After these were submitted and approved, Shelland was to receive a commission “upon receipt of which you will be authorized to take possession of the office and enter upon the discharge of its duties.”

But there are two qualifiers: “Until this commission shall have been received you will not be justified in incurring any expense or taking any step preparatory to your installation into office beyond the execution of the above mentioned bond and qualification.

“This appointment is to continue during the pleasure of the President of the United States for the time being, and until the close of the next session of the Senate of the United States, and no longer.”

The letter is signed by Charles Emory Smith (1842-1908), who was appointed postmaster general on April 21, 1898, by President William McKinley. Smith was replaced on Jan. 15, 1902, by Henry C. Payne, appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt after McKinley was assassinated in September 1901.

Shelland, the Oneonta postmaster, was born in 1863 in Westford, N.Y., and passed away in 1932. He had previously served as postmaster from 1889 to 1894, having been appointed by President Benjamin Harrison, a Republican.

Shelland was replaced in 1894 during the second administration of President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. (Cleveland was the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms, 1885-89 and 1893-97.)

When McKinley, a Republican, followed Cleveland into the White House, the Democratic Party’s appointees were sacked and replaced by Republicans. Shelland was reappointed to his old job as postmaster and served until his retirement around 1910.

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