The First Census

The first national census  was taken in 1790. States included in the first census were Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina,Vermont, and Virginia.

The first enumeration began in August, 1790, right before the second session of the first Congress ended. Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 census to the marshals of the U.S. judicial districts under an act that, with minor modifications and extensions, regulated census-taking through1840. The law required that every household be visited and that completed census schedules be posted in ‘‘two of the most public places within, there to remain for the inspection of all concerned…’’ and that ‘the aggregate amount of each description of persons’’ for every district be transmitted to the President. The six inquiries in 1790 called for:
1. the name of the head of the family
2. the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions:
free white males of 16 years and upward (to   assess the country’s industrial and military potential)                                               

free white males under 16 years

free white females

all other free persons (by sex and color)


That is the extent of the original census. Six catagories of people but only one simple question. (Two if you count the name of the head of household question, but only the head of each household answered that, not everyone in the household.) The name question aside, the one question was, how many voters in these states. One question, not 10, not 28 pages of questions as in the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The census is only to count voters and to assess the manpower of the states for industrial and military purposes. Both those goals were met by asking one question. Before 1820, free black men in Massachusetts, New Jersey,Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire voted on an equal basis with white men and in 1768 blacks were elected to office in New Hampshire.
The first census was taken by federal marshalls. Now it’s taken by hired, mostly temporary, census takers. I wonder how long it will take the census bureau to bring back federal marshalls to come knocking on our doors.


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