Albert S. Burleson

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Albert Burleson
Albert S. Burleson.jpg
45th United States Postmaster General
In office
March 5, 1913 – March 4, 1921
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byFrank H. Hitchcock
Succeeded byWill H. Hays
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas
In office
March 4, 1899 – March 6, 1913
Preceded byJoseph D. Sayers
Succeeded byJames P. Buchanan
Constituency9th district (1899–1903)
10th district (1903–1913)
Personal details
Albert Sidney Burleson

(1863-06-07)June 7, 1863
San Marcos, Texas, C.S.
DiedNovember 24, 1937(1937-11-24) (aged 74)
San Marcos, Texas, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationTexas A&M University
Baylor University (BA)
University of Texas at Austin (LLB)

Albert Sidney Burleson (June 7, 1863 – November 24, 1937) was a progressive Democrat who served as United States Postmaster General and Representative in Congress. He was a strong supporter of William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson and so Wilson appointed him to the cabinet role heading the US Post Office. He expanded parcel post, rural free delivery, and air mail service. After America entered World War I in 1917, he stopped the mail delivery of anti-war publications and clamped down on free speech, actions that have been heavily criticized ever since.

Early life[edit]

Born in San Marcos, Texas, Burleson came from a wealthy Southern planter family. His father, Edward Burleson, Jr., was a Confederate officer. His grandfather, Edward Burleson, was a soldier and statesman in the Republic of Texas and the early State of Texas. In his early political career, Burleson represented Texas in the House of Representatives, where he was active in promoting the development of agriculture.[1] According to his biographer Adrian Anderson, his 1898 platform showed:

evidences of agrarian liberalism. He called for a reduction in the tariff, prison terms for violators of antitrust laws, restriction of immigration, limitations on the use of injunctions against labor unions, and a national amendment allowing the enactment of an income tax. He denounced national banks and repeated his plea for free coinage of silver.[2]

Postmaster General[edit]

1920 Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson
Albert Sidney Burleson in the 1910s

Burleson played a major role in securing the Texas delegation for Woodrow Wilson in 1912, and he became one of the President's most trusted advisors.[3] In 1913, he was appointed Postmaster General. To his credit, he initiated the parcel post and air mail services, increasing mail service to rural areas.[4] Samuel Walker states, "Burleson holds the dubious distinction of being the worst member of the entire Wilson administration on civil liberties."[5] According to historian G. J. Meyer, Burleson "has been called the worst postmaster general in American history, but that is unfair; he introduced parcel post and airmail and improved rural service. It is fair to say, however, that he may have been the worst human being ever to serve as postmaster general".[4]

In 1913 Burleson began segregating the postal employees by race. Burleson also fired black postal workers in the South. He drew criticism from labor unions by forbidding postal employees to strike.[6]

Burleson lived in this apartment/hotel on 16th Street NW while in Washington, D.C.
One of the first letters delivered by US Airmail, written by Burleson

In 1913, Burleson aroused a storm of protest, especially on the part of the large daily newspapers, by declaring that he would enforce the law requiring publications to print, among other things, a sworn statement of paid circulation, which had been held in abeyance by his predecessor until its constitutionality might be confirmed. The Supreme Court enjoined him from doing so.[7]

After the United States entered the World War in 1917, Burleson vigorously enforced the Espionage Act, ordering local postmasters to send to him any illegal or suspicious material that they found. The distribution by mail of major antiwar magazines, such as Emma Goldman's Mother Earth and Max Eastman's The Masses, was slowed drastically, and often, were never delivered. Burleson banned antiwar material from being delivered by Post Office personnel. It was impossible to draw an ideal line, and the result was a general alienation of the press.[7] From June 1918 to July 1919, the Post Office Department operated the nation's telephone and telegraph services,[8][9] an arrangement Burleson had advocated at least as early as 1913.[10]

Following the war, he continued to advocate permanent nationalization of telephone, telegraph, and cable services. He acknowledged that Congress would be hostile to the idea and oversaw the return of the communications infrastructure to its various corporate owners.[11] He introduced the "zone system" in which postage on second-class mail was charged according to distance.[7]

Later life[edit]

In 1919, he was appointed as chairman of the United States Telegraph and Telephone Administration. In 1920, he became the chairman of the United States Commission to the International Wire Communication Conference and retired in 1921.[12]

In the 1930s, he opposed the Ku Klux Klan and supported Al Smith for president.[13] Burleson died of a heart attack and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery, in Austin, Texas.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Seymour V. Connor, 2020.
  2. ^ Adrian Anderson, "President Wilson's Politician: Albert Sidney Burleson of Texas." Southwestern Historical Quarterly 77.3 (1974): 339-354 at p. 341.
  3. ^ Samuel Walker , Presidents and civil liberties from Wilson to Obama: a story of poor custodians (Cambridge University Press, 2014) p. 15
  4. ^ a b Adam Hochschild, "The Censor". Mother Jones (sept-Oct 2022) 47#5: 55–59, 69. online
  5. ^ Walker , Presidents and civil liberties (2014) p. 15
  6. ^ Anderson, 1974.
  7. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Burleson, Albert Sidney" . Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company.
  8. ^ "Reach Agreement On U.S. Wire Control. President Vail of American Tel. & Tel. Co. Announces Result of Conferences with Burleson. Bell System Head Says Stockholders Are Protected and Dividends Continue at Existing Rates. Pleased by Government's Attitude. Security Holders Protected". The New York Times. October 7, 1918. Retrieved August 10, 2008.
  9. ^ Cybertelecom :: Telephone at
  10. ^ "Federal Ownership Halts. But Lewis of Maryland Makes a Move to Keep Up the Fight". The New York Times. December 21, 1913. Retrieved August 10, 2008.
  11. ^ Richard R. John, “When Techno-Diplomacy Failed: Richard S. Rogers, “The Universal Electrical Communications Union, and the Limitations of the International Telegraph Union as a Global Actor in the 1920s,” Section 3.2, reprinted in G. Balbi & A. Fickers, “History of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU),” ISBN 978-3-11-066970-1 (2020).
  12. ^ Anderson, 1974.
  13. ^ Anderson, 1974.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, Adrian. "President Wilson's Politician: Albert Sidney Burleson of Texas." Southwestern Historical Quarterly 77.3 (1974): 339-354. online
    • Anderson, Adrian Norris. "Albert Sidney Burleson: A Southern Politician in the Progressive Era" (PhD dissertation, Texas Tech University ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1967. 6802606).
  • Connor, Seymour V. "Burleson, Albert Sidney" Handbook of Texas (2020) online
  • Gould, Lewis L. "Progressives and prohibitionists: Texas Democratic politics, 1911-1921." Southwestern Historical Quarterly 75.1 (1971): 5-18. online
  • Hilton, Ora A. "Freedom of the Press in Wartime 1917-1919." Southwestern Social Science Quarterly (1948): 346-361. online
  • Johnson, Donald. "Wilson, burleson, and censorship in the first world war." Journal of Southern History 28.1 (1962): 46-58. online
  • Leary,, William M. Aerial Pioneers: The US Air Mail Service, 1918–1927 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986).

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by United States Postmaster General
Served under: Woodrow Wilson

Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas's 9th congressional district
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas's 10th congressional district
Succeeded by

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.