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The American Census

The American Census: A Social History

Copyright Date: 1988
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The American Census
    Book Description:

    This book, published on the eve of the bicentennial of the American census, is the first social history of this remarkably important institution, from its origins in 1790 to the present. Margo Anderson argues that the census has always been an influential policymaking tool, used not only to determine the number of representatives apportioned to each state but also to allocate tax dollars to states, and, in the past, to define groups-such as slaves and immigrants-who were to be excluded from the American polity.

    "As a history of the census, this study is a delight. It is thoroughly researched and richly detailed. Anderson is to be commended for covering such an expansive chronology with such skill. . . . Anderson has woven together not only social history but also intellectual, institutional, political, and military history into a thoroughly readable book that examines not only changes in the census but also the remarkable changes that have taken place in the US."-Choice

    "This book is valuable, clearly written and contains many interesting facts. It should be read not only by national policymakers and the statistical community, but by all who are interested in American society."-Bryant Robey,Population Today

    "A solid and readable piece of social, political, and institutional history. It will be essential reading not only for historians of American politics but also for census and population experts, for any public policy formulators who rely on census figures, and for those interested in the history of numeracy and statistics."-Patricia Cline Cohen, University of California, Santa Barbara

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16102-1
    Subjects: History, Population Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    During a congressional committee hearing in the late 1960s, as a Census Bureau official told it, a congressman was questioning statisticians from the bureau about the projected scope and costs of the 1970 census. The tenor of his questions was highly critical. Why did the bureau need to ask so many questions? Did not the projected questions constitute an invasion of individual privacy by the government? And why did the census cost so much?

    Bureau officials responded patiently to each question, although it was clear that the congressman was unconvinced. Why did the federal government have to get so involved...

  7. ONE The Census and the New Nation: Apportionment, Congress, and the Progress of the United States
    (pp. 7-31)

    Two hundred years ago, in May 1787, delegates from the original thirteen American states convened in Philadelphia to discuss amendments to the Articles of Confederation. National government under the articles had been cumbersome and unsatisfactory for some time, and the Philadelphia Convention was one of several efforts to strengthen the powers of Congress and to resolve some of the many issues of finance, trade, and sovereignty that had plagued the infant United States since independence. Nevertheless, the charge to the delegates was perhaps both modest and somewhat imprecise: to revise the Articles of Confederation. Few observers expected the results that...

  8. TWO Sectional Crisis and Census Reform in the 1850s
    (pp. 32-57)

    The history of the middle decades of the nineteenth century appropriately tends to focus on the growing sectional conflict between North and South and the coming of the Civil War. This period witnessed, in John C. Calhoun’s words, “the cords which bind these states together in one common Union” break apart.¹ Much of the political history of the period emphasizes the growing fractiousness of congressional debate, the paralysis of congressional policymaking, the disintegration of the Whig party, the realignment of the Democrats, and the birth of the Republican party. Further, because we know that the question of slavery did ultimately...

  9. THREE Counting Slaves and Freed Blacks: War and Reconstruction by the Numbers
    (pp. 58-82)

    Probably the one person who could have convinced Congress to use the census to address the great debates about slavery in 1860 was Joseph C. G. Kennedy. But Kennedy had good reasons for refraining from doing so. Though officially fired as census superintendent in March 1853, he remained in Washington after his dismissal and made concerted efforts throughout the 1850s to clear his name and get his old job back. He watched the Whig party collapse, the Democrats take control of Congress and the presidency, and the new Republican party grow. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he never wholeheartedly endorsed...

  10. FOUR The Census and Industrial America in the Gilded Age
    (pp. 83-115)

    During the late nineteenth century, American census takers, like the broader community of policymakers, slowly turned their attention away from the problems of the South and of American race relations. Instead they took up the emerging social issues presented by urbanization, industrialization, and the end of the western frontier. As they did so, they refashioned the machinery of the census.

    Between the 1870s and the turn of the century, several innovations in census taking emerged. They included two major pieces of census legislation. In 1879 Congress gave the Census Office control over the field administration of the census. The superintendent...

  11. FIVE Building the Federal Statistical System in the Early Twentieth Century
    (pp. 116-130)

    The establishment of the permanent census office marked a major transition in the history of statistics in the United States. Congress finally acknowledged the need for a general federal agency to gather statistics on a wide variety of topics irrespective of the requirements of the decennial census. No longer would statistical data collection be commonly relegated to the decennial census, to special investigating commissions, or to special projects of other government offices. Congress further recognized that the collection and analysis of statistics required several skilled statisticians, hundreds of clerks, tabulating machinery, and a permanent organizational structure. Because Congress assumed that...

  12. SIX The Tribal Twenties Revisited: National Origins, Malapportionment, and Cheating by the Numbers
    (pp. 131-158)

    The Census Bureau of 1920 had little advance warning of the political crisis that would flow from the results of the fourteenth census. The preparation for the count was routine; the chief statisticians planned the tabulating schedule; they developed procedures to deal with the irate city boosters who felt that their cities had been undercounted. The statisticians modified the tabulation procedures to avoid the processing delays of 1910. Some worried over the effect of demobilization on the census effort—particularly in terms of paying the enumerators, given the wartime inflation. Overall, however, the statisticians expected that they would, as they...

  13. SEVEN Counting the Unemployed and the Crisis of the Great Depression
    (pp. 159-190)

    The June 1929 apportionment bill contained the enabling legislation for the 1930 census. Passage of that portion of the bill dealing with the administration of the census had been delayed by the turmoil surrounding reapportionment, but by and large the census bill had broad support. In keeping with long-term trends in census legislation, the bill ceded authority over many details of census taking to the Commerce Department and census director. For the first time, the bill did not specify in minute detail the questions to be asked, only the areas to be investigated. In 1930, these were to include population,...

  14. EIGHT The High-Tech Census and the Growth of the Welfare State
    (pp. 191-212)

    Two contradictory trends characterize the American census experience since World War II. The Census Bureau has built on the innovations and accomplishments of the 1930s and has continued to be praised for its high-quality survey research. Since the late 1960s, however, the bureau has faced increasing public criticism. A wide variety of public and private officials have demanded more from the bureau and its data than it could deliver. At the height of the controversies during the 1980 census period, the bureau faced fifty-four lawsuits charging it with improper and unconstitutional methods of counting. Why the bureau has come under...

  15. NINE The 1980 Census and the Politics of Counting
    (pp. 213-235)

    During the 1960s, the expanded federal grants-in-aid, the civil rights laws, and the reapportionment decisions had gradually placed new burdens on the federal census and on population statistics generally. Congress, federal court judges, and public officials had turned to census data to create and apply standards of equitable distribution of political and fiscal resources. They had done so because a census apportionment mechanism was simple, automatic, and part of the long-standing traditions of American constitutional law. In many cases, Congress and the Supreme Court couched their new rules in terms of the historic role of the census in the American...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 236-240)

    This story of census taking and the politics of population in the United States does not end. In 1990 the Census Bureau will take another decennial census—the bicentennial census, as a matter of fact. That census will again raise issues of the fairness and adequacy of our census apportionment systems, the accuracy of the count itself, and of what questions should and should not be asked. And, necessarily, the way we as a nation address those questions will be determined by both the historical record of how we have dealt with these issues in the past and where we...

    (pp. 241-246)
    (pp. 247-250)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 251-257)