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THE HISTORY AND GROWTH
UNITED STATES CENSUS.
The legislation which has been effected for the purpose of taking the twelfth and subsequent censuses (a) contemplates a somewhat radical departure, in the light of the experiences of the more recent enumerations, in limiting the decennial work to four general topics, namely, population, agriculture, manufactures, and vital statistics, and leaving for later consideration some of the many special subjects of inquiry which have formed a part of the reports of the tenth and eleventh censuses.
Much of the criticism which has arisen concerning the work of the later censuses is due to the great increase in the scope of the Federal census, to the incompleteness of the work of preparation, the high-pressure conditions under which it has been carried on, and the inevitable delay in the publication of the several volumes constituting the final report. These conditions do not come from any lack of zeal or integrity of effort on the part of the Census Superintendent and his corps of assistants, but arise rather from the entirely temporary character of the census organization and the lack of time in which properly to prepare for the work of enumeration and compilation, so essential to the production of a report harmonious and consistent in all its details, and concerning the general accuracy of the results presented therein there can be no reasonable cause for criticism or complaint. This suggests an ideal condition of affairs surrounding census work that can not begin to be realized, even, until the office is placed upon a stable basis, properly organized and equipped for practically continuous work, and the officials in charge given an opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to do efficient work under fairly satisfactory conditions and to prove the desirability and usefulness of a permanent census organization, not only on the score of increased accuracy and efficiency in the work, but also with respect to its admitted economy.
The number and extent of the census inquiries, starting in 1790 with but a single schedule calling for only two or three details as to the color, sex, and age of the population, have been a matter of steady growth from decade to decade, particularly since 1850, until they have culminated at the last two censuses in a very great variety of topics of investigation, comprising many different schedules and an almost endless number of inquiries; and in view of the recent legislation by which the decennial work of the twelfth census is limited to four subjects of investigation, a somewhat extended survey and study of the history and growth of the Federal census may not be without value.
In tracing this growth of census inquiry from the first enumeration, in 1790 to the eleventh, in 1890, it is the present purpose to consider, first, the purely historical features of the several censuses, as to methods of enumeration, general scope of the inquiries and printed results, and the cost of the work, and to then show the inception and growth of the inquiries concerning each of the various subjects of investigation.
The general consideration of the primary purpose for which the decennial enumeration was established, and its subsequent development into a census of the population, wealth, and industry of the Nation, involves very properly a consideration of the purely conjectural estimates of population in colonial times, and brief mention is made, therefore, of some of the statements of colonial population which preceded the first regular enumeration of the inhabitants of the United States in 1790.
ESTIMATES OF COLONIAL POPULATION.
Among the earliest estimates of population during the colonial period are those given by Mr. Franklin Bowditch Dexter, (a) who concludes, after a careful study of the various estimates for each of the American colonies, that "in the first third of a century, or by 1610, when Parliament gained the ascendency in England, British America contained a little over 25,000 whites, 60 per cent of them in New England, and the most of the remainder in Virginia,” and that “at the restoration of monarchy in 1660 the total was about 80,000, the greatest gain being in the most loyal divisions, Virginia and Maryland, which now comprehended one-half the whole.”
At the period of the great European revolution of 1688, the twelve oldest States of our Union contained, according to Mr. Bancroft, () and his figures are confirmed by Mr. Dexter's observations, "not very many beyond 200,000 inhabitants, of whom Massachusetts, with Plymouth and Maine, may have had 44,000; New Hampshire, and Rhode Island with Providence, each 6,000; Connecticut, from 17,000 to
a Estimates of Population in the American Colonies, p. 29.