§ 979. Postmasters. - The post-office establishment is created by statute, for the purpose of revenue and public convenience. The postmaster-general enters into no contract with individuals, but receives a general compensation from the government itself. He is, therefore, responsible only to the government; and his contracts are public contracts, binding upon the government, and not upon himself personally.1 But although the postmaster-general is not responsible to third persons, either for his own default or for that of his deputies,2 yet the deputy-postmasters are held liable to third persons for losses arising from their own fraud or want of proper diligence, as for detaining a letter for an unreasonable time;3 or for losses occurring through the fraud or want of proper diligence of the subordinates, whenever they themselves have not exercised a due and reasonable diligence in the appointment of such subordinates, or have not properly superintended their official acts.4 Thus, a deputy-postmaster who employed an assistant, but neglected to have him sworn to the faithful discharge of his duty, as the law required, has been held liable for his negligence in refusing to deliver a letter.5 Each person
1 Rowning v. Goodchild, 3 Wils. 443; Whitfield v. Le Despencer, Cowp. 754; Story on Agency, § 302 to 307; Story on Bailm. § 462, 463, 464; 1 Bell, Comm. § 468; Dunlop v. Munroe, 7 Cranch, 242; Bolan v. Williamson, 2 Bay, 551; Schroyer v. Lynch, 8 Watts, 453.
2 See Wiggins v. Hathaway, 6 Barb. 632.
3 Rowning v. Goodchild, 3 Wils. 443; Stock v. Harris, 5 Burr. 2709.
4 Dunlop v. Munroe, 7 Cranch, 242, 269; Whitfield v. Le Despencer, Cowp. 754; Story on Bailm. § 463; Schroyer v». Lynch, 8 Watts, 453; 2 Law R. 229. See Christy v. Smith, 23 Vt. 663; Maxwell v. Mcllvoy, 2 Bibb, 211; Fitzgerald v. Burrill, 106 Mass. 446 (1871).
5 Bishop v. Williamson, 2 Fairf. 495. And see Ford v. Parker, 4 Ohio St. 576; Fitzgerald v. Burrill, 106 Mass. 446 (1871). In the last is, however, personally responsible to the government for want of ordinary diligence.
§ 980. Mail Contractors. - The same general rule as to postmasters, excluding them from personal liability, has been thought also to apply to mail contractors, on the ground that they make no personal contracts with the senders of letters, and receive no pay from them for the carriage. And as they merely act as public officers, and are remunerated by the government, they are said to be responsible solely to their employers.1 But the contrary has recently been held.2 case a clerk of the post-office was held liable, under the circumstances, for the loss of an unregistered letter.
1 Conwell v. Voorhees, 13 Ohio, 523; Hutchins v. Brackett, 2 Foster, 252.
2 Sawyer v. Corse, 17 Gratt. 230(1867). A common carrier, carrying prisoners for the government, does not thereby become the agent of the government so as to escape liability for the negligent acts of servants. Truex v. Erie Railway Co., 4 Lans. 198 (1870).