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Mr. Fox, at the head of an able, rather than a numerous opposition, opposed its progress with a degree of ability seldom before witnessed. To cheer and arouse the drooping spirits of the ministerial party, Mr. Mayor published a circular letter, in which he proposed to raise a general subscription for the public service. His relations, the Longs, presented three thousand guineas on this occasion, and he himself was not wanting to set an example, having commenced by advancing a donation, amounting to a proportionate share of his fortune, which was by this time considerable. An endeavour was made to extend this plan throughout the kingdom at large; but it did not suceeed to the extent hoped for, and first a five, and then a ten per cent. tax was proposed, which, although greatly disliked at first, proved eminently productive. All this paved the way to the future representation of the city of Bath, to which office both the subject of this memoir and his eldest son, have been elected in succession.
We have now arrived at that epoch when Mr. Palmer became connected with one of the principal public offices in the state, and his plans and pursuits ultimately blended with the commercial and manufacturing interests of the nation. While at home, it was impossible for him to look at Prior Park, without contemplating the rewards so justly bestowed on a man, who had contributed so much to the prosperity of the post-office department. The friend of Pope, and of Warburton, Mr. Allen, had risen from humble beginnings, and attained both wealth and respectability by his talents. * Abroad, it was impossible for a man of observation to travel a hundred miles without perceiving the difficulties attendant on a direct communication between distant parts. The post was so slow, and even so uncertain in its deliveries, that expresses were often substituted by commercial men ; the roads, too, were bad; and the danger of robbery imminent.
* In consequence of his improvements in the cross-posts he was rewarded with 12,000l. per ann, during his life, and as this lasted for the term of forty-two years after the grant, the sum total thus obtained amounted to about half a million sterling !
Mr. Palmer's long and circuitous journeys on theatrical affairs had made him have frequent recourse to relays, when pressed for time; and he perceived, by long experience, that he could easily anticipate the delivery of a letter by the usual conveyatice. This, doubtless, suggested the idea, that what could be done for an individual, might with equal ease, and still greater benefit, be effected for the public at large. It was not, however, until he had traversed the whole kingdom, alinost in every possible direction, and made himself acquainted with all the impediments, and all the abuses in the post-office department, that he deemed his projects sufficiently concocted and complete.
Accordingly, in 1782 or 1783, he applied to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, by means of a memorial, in which he stated all his plans with great minuteness and precision, and forgot not to add, that their execution would be attended not only with great advantage to commercial men, but produce an immediate increase of the revenue.
Mr. Pitt, then minister, was busily employed at this very moment in devising means for rescuing the country from those pecuniary difficulties which had been entailed in consequence of the prosecution of the American war; by him, therefore, this proposition, fraught with increasing revenue, and many public advantages, was received with due attention. On this Mr. Palmer removed with his family to town, and a successful termination, as it was then hoped, had now taken place in respect to all his negociations with the superior powers.
But the manner in which this was effected proved inefficient; and, strange to tell, in a matter of such importance no written agreement had ever been entered into. A verbal one, indeed, took place with the premier, but even that happened to be through the intermediate agency of a third person. This third person was no other than Dr. Prettyman, the present Bishop of Lincoln, then Mr. Pitt's private secretary, as appears from the testimony of the projector himself, when examined before a committee of the House of Commons: “ I left some papers with Dr. Prettyman” observes he, “ stating that
if my plan succeeded, for the reform and improvement of the posts, I demanded for my life 2 per cent. on the future increased revenue of post-office, beyond the present nett profits, and not to have one shilling if I did not succeed in my plan. This happened in the spring of 1784. The answer brought to me by Dr. Prettyman was, that the terms were thought fair, and would be fully complied with, provided the plan succeeded."
Mr. Palmer accordingly commenced his operations, and actually effected a considerable saving above the original estimate of 20,000). in the contract for the mails. It was deemed convenient, soon after, however, to modify the first agreement, in consequence of which, it was finally settled that Mr. Palmer was entitled to 15001. a-year, and a per centage for the nett revenue exceeding 240,000l. per ann.
The scheme succeeded far beyond expectation, and was praised by every one but the postmasters-general and their immediate dependants. According to them, it was highly injurious both to the mercantile interest and the public revenue; and it would appear that some of them were in consequence so scrupulously conscientious as actually to oppose the full and entire execution of the project.
In the spring of 1785 (5th May) Mr. Palmer addressed a letter to the premier, complaining of the conduct of Mr. Todd, the secretary, and also of the interior mismanagement of the office committed to his charge.
“ The success of the plan, Sir, I believe,” adds he, “ has exceeded both yours and the public's expectation. I am sure it has my own in some points, though not in others, but has not fallen short in one. A circumstance, I believe, almost as new to administration in the various plans that are submitted to them, as a popular tax, which the posttax really is, where the accommodation has been given with it. It incurred no new expense, or inconvenience in the old establishment, even in the trial, but what was occasioned by the opposition from the general office. It conveys the mails in half the time they used to be, and guarded under regulations
that will in a great measure enforce themselves; and where it has been carried into execution, has immediately occasioned an increase of revenue to the post-office. It having been proved, that it is scarce possible for greater neglect or abuses to prevail than in the conduct of the old post; that in consequence of it, a great share of the correspondence was carried on by coaches, to the detriment of the post revenue; that the
tax, coupled with the old plan, would have increased such defalcation, which, by the statements given in to the treasury, comparing the great improvement in the revenue from the tax upon the new opposed to the old establishment, has been very fully proved.
“ It was promised in the plan, to give the improved expedition and security to the great roads from London, and some of the cross roads, for the payment of three-pence per mile, the allowance for guards, and the exemption from turnpike tolls. The contracts are now made for the greater part of the kingdom for the allowance of guards and the exemption from turnpike tolls only. Likewise, for all the cross posts, six times a-week, instead of three, so as to make those posts as regular and perfect as the general one.
“ This accommodation will be given to the public, and the arrival and departure of the mails all over the country will now be regular, expeditious, and safe, on plain, certain, and simple principles, instead of the reverse. It will not only save many thousands a-year, in the expense of the riding work,
&c., but in consequence of the superior mode of conveyance to any other, add greatly to the revenue, by the increase of correspondence through the post-office.
“ In the progress of the business, I have had every possible opposition from the office ; I have neither spared trouble nor expense to inform myself in every department of it, so that I may carry my plan completely into execution, and defeat their repeated attempts to ruin it. I have been perfectly open, and kept no one secret from government, or desired
Additional postage ou letters.
one shilling advantage from any contract, but acted in every 'respect to the best of my judgment for the benefit of the public; nor can I gain the least advantage from my agreement till I have completed the plan over the whole kingdom, as my per centage from the increased revenue by the tax, without the accommodation, will not pay the very great expenses I am obliged to incur in the establishing it.”
As many conflicting interests seemed to oppose the full and complete establishment of Mr. Palmer's plan, and as it was supposed likely to affect the perquisites of a variety of persons from the lowest to the highest in that department, Mr. Pitt, actuated solely by a regard for the public good, wished to · render Mr. Palmer completely independent of the post-office. With this view, the draft of a commission was made out, constituting and appointing him, for and during his life, surveyor and comptroller general of the general post-office of Great Britain, with all its postmasters, contractors, deputies, accomptants, surveyors, clerks, sorters, window-men, &c. &c. with the power of suspending all such for the neglect of duty. On being laid before the attorney-general, it was suggested that such extraordinary powers were incompatible with the act of parliament for regulating the office of postmaster-general. This objection, on the part of a great officer of the crown, impeded the proposed appointment for almost a year; but Mr. Palmer was at length invested with the office, on an understanding that he should be under the controul of the treasury alone, and thus derive his powers from the same source and authority as the postmasters-general themselves.
It was now supposed that every thing would go on smoothly; but this was impossible in the nature of human events. The passions and interests of too many were likely to be affected by the new regulations; and there were some who supposed that the projector would be audacious enough to extend his reforming arm from Lombard-street to Falmouth, Harwich, and the other out-ports whence foreign packets were forwarded, and thus convert to the public advantage many thousands of pounds,