Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

years of age. In 1800 and 1810 the same classification was preserved, except that five age-groups instead of two were given for free white males and the same five were applied also to free white females. In connexion with the census of 1810 an attempt, perhaps the earliest in any country, was made to gather certain industrial statistics showing “the number, nature, extent, situation and value of the arts and manufactures of the United States.” In 1820 a sixth age class was introduced for free white males, an age classification of four periods was applied to the free coloured and the slaves of each sex, and the number of aliens and of persons engaged in agriculture, in manufactures and in commerce was called for. The inquiry into industrial statistics begun in 1810 was also repeated and extended.

In 1830 thirteen age classes were employed for free whites of each sex, and six for the free coloured and the slaves of each sex. The number of aliens, of the deaf and dumb and the blind were also gathered.

The law under which the census of 1840 was taken contained a novel provision for the preparation in connexion with the census of statistical tables giving “such information in relation to mines, agriculture, commerce, manufactures and schools as will exhibit a full view of the pursuits, industry, education and resources of the country.” This was about the first indication of a tendency, which grew in strength for half a century, to load the Federal census with inquiries having no essential or necessary connexion with its main purpose, which was to secure an accurate enumeration of the population as a basis for a reapportionment of seats in the House of Representatives. This tendency was largely due to a doubt whether the Federal government under the Constitution possessed the power to initiate general statistical inquiries, a doubt well expressed in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica by Francis A. Walker, himself a prominent member of the party whose contention he states:—

“The reservation by the states of all rights not granted to the general government makes it fairly a matter of question whether purely statistical inquiries, other than for the single purpose of apportioning representation, could be initiated by any other authority than that of the states themselves. That large party which advocates a strict and jealous construction of the constitution would certainly oppose any independent legislation by the national Congress for providing a registration of births, marriages and deaths, or for obtaining social and industrial statistics, whether for the satisfaction of the publicist or for the guidance of the legislature. Even though the supreme court should decide such legislation to be within the grant of powers to the general government, the distrust and opposition, on constitutional grounds, of so large a portion of the people, could not but go far to defeat the object sought.”

The difficulty stated in the foregoing quotation, although now mainly of historic importance, exerted great influence upon the development of the American census prior to 1900.

The pioneer work of the census of 1840 in the fields of educational statistics, statistics of occupations, of defective classes and of causes of death, suffered from numerous errors and defects. Public discussion of them contributed to secure radical modifications of scope and method at the census of 1850. Before the census law was passed, a census board, consisting of three members of the president’s cabinet, was appointed to draft plans for the inquiry, and the essential features of its report prepared after consultation with a number of leading statisticians were embodied in the law.

The census of 1850 was taken on six schedules, one for free inhabitants, one for slaves, one for deaths during the preceding year, one for agriculture, one for manufactures and one for social statistics. The last asked for returns regarding valuation, taxation, educational and religious statistics, pauperism, crime and the prevailing rates of wages in each municipal division. It was also the first American census to give a line of the schedule to each person, death or establishment enumerated, and thus to make the returns in the individual form indispensable for a detailed classification and compilation. The results of this census were tabulated with care and skill, and a preliminary analysis gave the salient results and in some cases compared them with European figures.

The census of 1860 followed the model of its predecessor with slight changes. When the time for the next census approached it was felt that new legislation was needed, and a committee of the House of Representatives, with James A. Garfield, afterwards president of the United States, at its head, made a careful and thorough study of the situation and reported an excellent bill, which passed the House, but was defeated by untoward influences in the Senate. In consequence the census of 1870 was taken with the outgrown machinery established twenty years earlier, a law characterized by Francis A. Walker, the superintendent of the census, who administered it, as “clumsy, antiquated and barbarous.” It suffered also from the fact that large parts of the country had not recovered from the ruin wrought by four years of civil war. In consequence this census marks the lowest ebb of American census work. Tie accuracy of the results is generally denied by competent experts. The serious errors were errors of omission, were probably confined in the main to the Southern states, and were especially frequent among the negroes.

Since 1870 the development of census work in the United States has been steady and rapid. The law, which had been prepared for the census of 1870 by the House committee, furnished a basis for greatly improved legislation in 1879, under which the tenth census was taken. By this law the census office for the first time was allowed to call into existence and to control an adequate local staff of supervisors and enumerators. The scope of the work was so extended as to make the twenty-two quarto volumes of the tenth census almost an encyclopaedia, not only of the population, but also of the products and resources of the United States. Probably no other census in the world has ever covered so wide a range of subjects, and perhaps none except that of India and the eleventh American census has extended through so many volumes. The topics usually contained in a census suffered from the great addition of other and less pertinent matter, and the reputation of the work was unfavourably affected by the length of time required to prepare and publish the volumes (the last ones not appearing until near the end of the decade), the original underestimate of the cost of the work, which made frequent supplementary appropriations necessary, the resignation of the superintendent, Francis A. Walker, in 1882, and the disability and death of his successor, Charles W. Seaton. The eleventh census was taken under a law almost identical with that of the tenth, and extended through twenty-five large volumes, presenting a work almost as encyclopaedic, but much more distinctively statistical.

The popular opinion of a census, at least in the United States, depends largely upon the degree to which its figures for the population of the country, of states, and especially of cities, meet or fail to meet the expectations of the interested public. Judged by this standard, the census of 1890 was less favourably received than that of 1880. The enumerated population of the country in 1880 was larger than had been anticipated; and in the face of these figures it was difficult for local complaints, even where they were made, to find hearing and acceptance. But according to the eleventh census the decennial rate of growth of population fell suddenly from over 30%, which the figures had shown between 1870 and 1880, and in every preceding decade of the century, except that of the Civil War, to less than 25%, in spite of an immigration nearly double that of any preceding decade. For this change no adequate explanation was offered by the census office. Hence the protests of those who believed that the figures for population were too small swelled into a general chorus of dissatisfaction. But the census was probably more correct than the critics. Most of the motives influencing popular estimates of population in the United States tend to exaggeration. The convention which drafted the Constitution of the United States attempted to secure a balance of interests by apportioning both representatives in Congress and direct taxes according to population. A passage in The Federalist suggests the motives of the convention as follows:—

“As the accuracy of the census to be obtained by Congress will necessarily depend in a considerable degree on the disposition if not co-operation of the states, it is of great importance that the states should feel as little bias as possible to swell or reduce the