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The First Census: The Dawn of American Data

FRIDAY, AUG 14, 2009

Shortly after founding the United States, the framers wanted to count up who was in it. At the second session of the first congress, representatives created the Census, and five months later, the counting began. Specifically, the government sought population data to decide how to allocate political power and money.

The Constitution states “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct (Article 1, Section 2).”


This first Census offered a snapshot of the 3.9 million inhabitants of the new nation and even their surnames. The six components of the first Census were:

1) The names of the heads families

2) Free White males of 16 years and upward

3) Free White males under 16 years

4) Free White females

5) All other free persons (by sex and color, but “Indians not taxed” were not included in the counts)

6) Slaves

In August of 1790, marshals and their assistants set out on the nine-month task of surveying their parts of the country. Marshals earned up to $500 for their work, and their assistants were paid one dollar for every 150 people surveyed.

The data revealed information about the different states, such as the fact that in 1790, Vermont and Massachusetts were the only two states without any slaves.

Social Explorer has taken the raw data from this and every census and added it to our database, allowing premium users to explore and compare data from 1790 to the present all in one easy-to-use system.

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