Albert Sidney Burleson (June 7, 1863 – November 24, 1937) was a United States Postmaster General and Congressman. Born in San Marcos, Texas, he came from a wealthy Southern 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 early statehood Texas. In his early political career, Burleson represented Texas in the House, where he was active in promoting the development of agriculture.
In 1913 he was appointed Postmaster General by Woodrow Wilson. To his credit, he initiated the parcel post and air mail services, increasing mail service to rural areas. However, Burleson was one of the most reactionary politicians to have served as Postmaster General, and for that reason (and several others) his term is often seen as one of the worst in the history of the post. Burleson persecuted African-Americans in the mail service, segregating workers and firing Southern black postal workers. He drew criticism from labor unions by forbidding postal employees to strike. Business leaders were angered by inefficiency and almost dictatorial heavy-handedness in government control of communications.
From June of 1918 until July, 1919, the Post Office Department operated the nation's telephone and telegraph services, an arrangement Burleson had advocated at least as early as 1913.
During World War I, Burleson vigorously enforced the Espionage Act, ordering local postmasters to send to him any illegal or suspicious material that they found. The movement of major radical pamphlets such as Emma Goldman's Mother Earth and Max Eastman's The Masses through the mail was slowed drastically, and often such pamphlets were never delivered. Anti-war material was banned from the mail. Albert Burleson's actions as Postmaster General are a prime example of the Red Scare interference with freedom of speech.
Following the war, he continued to advocate permanent nationalization of telephone, telegraph and cable services, but acknowledging that Congress would be hostile to the idea, oversaw the return of the communications infrastructure to its various corporate owners. In 1919 he became chairman of the United States Telegraph and Telephone Administration and in 1920 chairman of the United States Commission to the International Wire Communication Conference, soon retiring in 1921. Burleson died of a heart attack and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas.
"Reading between the Lines": The Bureau of Investigation, the United States Post Office, and Domestic Surveillance during World War I
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