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cessful. Complaint was made concerning the many errors to be found in the census, and memorials calling attention to them were presented to Congress. One of these memorials was that of the American
. Statistical Association, (a) made to Congress in 1843, in which it is set forth that various and gross errors have been discovered in the printed edition of the sixth census, but that the committee of the association appointed to investigate the matter and report thereon to Congress, not having reliable data with which to compare all the details of the census, have confined their investigations to the reports respecting education, nosology, and employments.
In connection with the statement of the errors in the returns for colleges and universities, the memorialists believe “ there is good reason to suppose that the number of colleges given is almost twice as large as the true number, and that the number of students is exaggerated nearly as much," while as to common schools, the errors in regard to which “are the most striking,” the memorialists speak at length, and show in a table for various cities, towns, and counties where the “number of scholars at public charge” exceeds, and sometimes very greatly, the whole number of scholars reported. The memorialists further find that, in returning the people according to their several employments, some of the marshals “seem to have included the whole population, men, women, and children, in these classes, arranging them, probably, according to the employment of the head of the family, and some seem to have noticed only the males over 21 years
others seem to have noticed all who were sufficiently able to perform any service; and, lastly, some seem to have entirely neglected this duty, and have recorded none in some of the employments; and in many counties none are reported to have any employment whatever.” Some of these various classes of error and omission are cited in a table, and further comparison made of the number reported in mining and commerce with the returns made concerning these two classes on the schedule showing the capital invested, value of products, and persons employed in mining, agriculture, commerce, and manufactures. But, according to the memorialists, “the most glaring and remarkable errors are found in the statements respecting nosology, the prevalence of insanity, blindness, deafness, and dumbness, among the people of this nation." A comparison of these statements with other and more reliable data shows that they vary widely from the truth, and, further, that a comparison of the statements in one part of the census with those in another has shown the most extraordinary discrepancies. A comparison of the original manuscript copy of the returns for Massachusetts with the printed copies of the census shows a similar variance in the results, while a careful comparison of “the number of colored insane and idiots, and of the deaf and dumb and blind, with
a House Reports, Twenty-eighth Congress, first session, Vol. III, No. 580.
the whole number of the colored population, as stated in the printed edition of the census, in every city, town, and county in the United States” showed "extraordinary contradictions and improbabilities," the results of these comparisons being set forth in tabular form. The memorialists also found that “in many towns all the colored population are stated to be insane; in very many others, two-thirds, one-third, one-fourth, or one-tenth of this ill-starred race are reported to be thus afflicted,” while a further statement is made that “the errors of the census are as certain, if not as manifest, in regard to insanity among the whites as among the colored population.
The memorialists conceive, in view of these facts, "that such documents ought not to have the sanction of Congress, nor ought they to be regarded as containing true statements relative to the condition of the people and the resources of the United States;” and that some action should be taken for their correction, or, if that is impossible, for the discarding and disowning of the same, “as the good of the country shall require and as justice and humanity shall demand."
These memorials were referred to the Committee on the Library in the Senate and to a select committee in the House, and in the reports of these committees the errors were admitted, although their source was not determined and no steps were taken toward their correction.
These errors were due, for the most part, to the ineffectiveness of the machinery by which the census was then taken, arising from the large increase in the number of inquiries, for which an inadequate compensation was provided, and from the lack of proper supervision of the work of the assistants by the marshals, who had other duties to perform; and it is not to be wondered at that, under these conditions, errors should have crept in and become painfully manifest in the printed reports. Indeed, the attempt to gather the industrial and commercial statistics was looked upon with very great disfavor in some sections of the country, and a leading journal of the South went so far as to inquire whether “this Federal prying into the domestic economy of the people” was not “a precursor to direct taxes," and whether it was “worthy of the dignity and high functions of the Federal Government to pursue such petty investigations."
The census of 1840 brought to a close, however, the first period of census taking in this country, the leading facts of which can be briefly summarized. The first six censuses were limited practically to population, so far as any real results were concerned, although at three of these censuses, those of 1810, 1820, and 1810, an effort was made to extend the scope of the census to include statistics of industry. These efforts were of little avail, however, and the results, although printed, have but little value. With respect to population, the inquiries had to do almost wholly with the color, sex, and age of the population, to which were added at some of the later periods two or three inquiries concerning the number of persons engaged in a few of the great classes of occupations, the number of foreigners not naturalized, and the number of persons who were blind, deaf and dumb, or mentally defective. The distribution of the various elements of the population by age and sex was very limited at these earlier censuses, and it was not until the fifth and sixth censuses, those of 1830 and 1840, that the age distribution of the free white population was made to comprehend quinquennial and decennial periods, while the distribution of the free colored and slave elements was much more limited and covered a different classification of age than that applied to the free whites. These items of inquiry were gathered in connection with the name of the head of the family only, and showed simply the number of persons in each family, according to the various specifications of age, sex, and color prescribed by the several census acts. The enumeration, although taken as of a specified day, extended over a very long period of time, varying from nine months in 1790 to twice that period in 1840, before the field work was finally completed.
As a matter of course, from the nature of the inquiries, which were fixed and determined by the schedules prescribed, there was no tabulation required beyond the simple addition of the various entries concerning each family enumerated to determine the totals for each county, city, town, or other civil division comprehended in the several judicial districts and territories. These returns were made, more or less incomplete as to civil divisions, to the Secretary of State, with the exception of the first enumeration, when they were sent direct to the President, and were published in practically the shape in which they were received, without any attempt to present the details uniformly by cities and towns or to summarize the results for each State by counties, unless they happened to be so returned originally. A summary of the results by States and Territories was added in the office of the Secretary of State, in order to show the aggregate results for the entire country, and this represented the only work done at the central office, in the way of compilation of results, aside from the revision of the returns made in 1830 and 1840, to note the clerical errors, as directed by Congress. The methods in vogue at the first six censuses, therefore, were somewhat crude and essentially primitive, and the results presented covered but comparatively few details.
THE SEVENTH CENSUS: 1850.
As a result of the discussion which had arisen concerning the inaccuracies in the Report of the Sixth Census, it was realized that more adequate provision should be made for the seventh census, to be taken in 1850. This idea was recognized by the select committee of the House charged with the consideration of the errors reported in the sixth census, and in their report the statement is made that the defects
of this census form a strong argument for the establishment of a bureau of statistics, while in the report of the Senate Committee on the Library, concerning the same subject, offered by Senator Choate, it is stated that "in view of the manifest and palpable, not to say gross, errors of the late census, the committee feel bound to suggest to the Senate the necessity of some legislation with a view to prevent similar errors and inaccuracies in the census to be taken in 1850;" and, further, that they would “express with emphasis their opinion that, in the law providing for the taking of the next census, care should be taken to insert provisions which will insure fidelity on the part of those whose duty it will be to take the census, and accuracy on the part of those on whom it may devolve to prepare the results for publication. It was not until very near the close of the decade, however, that active steps were taken to modernize the work of the seventh census, and to improve the machinery by which it was prosecuted.
The first action toward making provision for the seventh census was taken at the session of Congress which convened in 1848, when it was proposed to use the schedules of 1840 again, but to eliminate therefrom what were termed the objectionable inquiries. This proposition met with a firm protest both in and out of Congress, and Mr. Capen, of Massachusetts, suggested that commissioners be appointed to take the census, and in a letter to a Senator from the same State recommended that a board of inquiry be appointed to examine and report upon the features which should properly be embraced in the census.
By an act approved March 3, 1849, a census board was established, to be composed of the Secretary of State, the Attorney-General, and the Postmaster-General, and this board was required by said act "to prepare and cause to be printed such forms and schedules as may be necessary for the full enumeration of the inhabitants of the United States; and also proper forms and schedules for collecting in statistical tables, under proper heads, such information as to mines, agriculture, commerce, manufactures, education, and other topics as will exhibit a full view of the pursuits, industry, education, and resources of the country; it being provided that the number of said inquiries, exclusive of the enumeration, shall not exceed one hundred, and that the expense in preparing and printing said forms and schedules shall not exceed $10,000.” Section 2 of the act also provided for the appointment by the board of a secretary, whose compensation was to be determined by Congress, and which was subsequently fixed at $3,000 per annum.
By another act of the same date the Department of the Interior was established, and in section 7 of said act it was provided that the Secretary of the Interior should “exercise all the supervisory and appellate powers now exercised by the Secretary of State in relation to all acts of marshals and others in taking and returning the census of the United States."
Subsequent to the formation of the census board, Mr. Shattuck, of Boston, also recommended that a central board of three persons, as commissioners, should be organized at Washington, to be selected “not for their political opinions, but for their scientific attainments and knowledge of the matters they are to investigate," and to have the whole management of planning and carrying into execution all matters relating to the census. It was also a part of his plan that similar commissions of three competent persons should be appointed by this central board in each State, with the consent of the governor thereof, and that each State commission should appoint district commissions, believing that by “this machinery a more perfect collection of facts could be obtained than in any other way."
The Senate at its next session also appointed a special committee to make provision for the census, and this committee began its work without much reference to the plans of the census board already created. This board, however, in the course of its work, called into consultation many eminent statisticians, including, among others, Mr. Shattuck, Mr. Capen, Dr. Chickering, and Dr. Jarvis, and its plan was afterwards submitted to the Senate committee, by whom its principal features were adopted. (a)
Provision was made for taking the seventh census, therefore, by act of May 23, 1850, in which six schedules or tables were prescribed and made a part of the act, and by which the information called for by Congress was defined. This census was taken, as heretofore, by the marshals and their assistants, and the enumeration, which was made as of June 1, 1850, was to close and the results thereof be returned to the Secretary of the Interior on or before the 1st day of the following November. Indians not taxed were omitted from the enumeration of the inhabitants, and in the Territories any part or all the statistics except those of population could be omitted, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior. He was also authorized to extend the time for making the returns in the Territories, if necessary, and if in any district or Territory there should be no marshal, the President was directed to appoint some suitable person to take the census.
Each marshal, before entering upon his duties, was required to take an oath or affirmation, according to the form prescribed by the act, and, when duly authenticated, to be deposited with the Secretary of the Interior; and until these provisions had been complied with, no marshal should perform any of the duties required of him.
The various subdivisions into which each marshal's district was separated were not to contain, so far as practicable, more than 20.000 inhabitants, and were to be bounded by known civil divisions, highways, or natural boundaries, such as rivers, lakes, etc. For each of these subdivisions an assistant was to be appointed, who should be a
a Compendium of the Seventh Census, pp. 12, 13.