The First Census of the United States 1790 Part II

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Provisions of the Act

Chapter II: Pages: 43-44

By the First Census act the marshals of the several judicial districts of the United States were authorized and required to cause the number of the inhabitants within their respective districts to be taken, "omitting Indians not taxed, and distinguishing free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, from all others; distinguishing also the sexes and colors of free persons, and the free males of 16 years and upward from those under that age."

The inquiries regarding the color of free persons, the sex of the whites, and the separation of white males into those above and those below 16 years of age were outside of the constitutional requirement of the enumeration, and reflect the efforts of Madison to obtain a comprehensive census. The last inquiry was undoubtedly instituted for the purpose of ascertaining the industrial and military strength of the country.

For the purpose of this enumeration, which was to be commenced on the first Monday in August, 1790, and completed within nine calendar months, the marshals were empowered to appoint within their respective districts as many assistants or enumerators as should appear to them necessary, assigning to each a certain division of his district, which "shall consist of one or more counties, cities, towns, townships, hundreds, or parishes, or of a territory plainly and distinctly bounded by water courses, mountains, or public roads."

In the case of Rhode Island and Vermont subsequent legislation was had July 5, 1790, and March 2, 1791, respectively, by which the terms of the act providing for the first enumeration were extended to these two districts. The enumeration in Vermont was to commence on the first Monday in April, 1791, and to close within five calendar months thereafter. By an act of November 8, 1791, the time for the completion of the census in South Carolina was extended to March 1, 1791.

Before entering upon the discharge of their duties, the marshals and assistant marshals were required to take an oath to cause to be made, or to make as the case might be, "a just and perfect enumeration and description of all persons" residing within their several districts.

For the purpose of settling all doubts which might arise respecting the persons to be returned and the manner of making the returns, it was provided that every person whose usual place of abode was in any family on the aforesaid first Monday in August should be returned as in such family; that any person without any "usual place of abode" was to be enumerated in the district in which he was on the first Monday in August; and that any person who at the time of the enumeration was temporarily absent from his usual place of abode should be returned as belonging to that place in which he usually resided. The act further provided that every person 16 years of age and over who refused or failed to render a true account when required by the enumerator to answer questions in contemplation of the act, was liable to a fine of $20. Penalties were prescribed also for the failure of an enumerator or marshal to comply with the provisions of the act.

The amount of compensation prescribed for the marshals of the districts varied from $100 to $500, as follows:

Rhode island, Delaware.
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey.
Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina.
North Carolina.

The rate of compensation allowed the assistants was $1 for every 300 persons in cities and towns containing more than 5,000 persons, and $1 for every 150 persons in country districts; but in those districts where, "from the dispersed situation of the inhabitants," $1 for 150 persons should seem inadequate, the marshals were authorized, subject to the approval of the judges of their respective districts, to increase the compensation to $1 for not less than 50 persons returned.

One of the peculiar provisions of the law, worthy of notice, was that each assistant, before making his return to the marshal, was required to "cause a correct copy, signed by himself, of the schedule containing the number of inhabitants within his division to be set up at two of the most public places within the same, there to remain for the inspection of all concerned," for which work, upon satisfactory proof, he was entitled to receive $4.

Each assistant was required to make his returns to his marshal within the allotted time, on a properly ruled schedule "distinguishing the several families by the names of their master, mistress, steward, overseer, or other principal person therein," and showing for each family the number of free white males 16 years and upward, including heads of families, free white males under 16 years, free white females, including heads of families, all other free persons, and slaves.

The marshals were required to transmit to the President of the United States on or before September 1, 1791, "the aggregate amount of each description of persons within their respective districts," and to file the original returns of their assistants with the clerks of their respective district courts, "who are hereby directed to receive and carefully preserve the same ." The total cost of the First Census was $44,377.28.

(Continue Part III Execution of the Law)


Website: The History
Article Name: The First Census of the United States 1790 Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY:  From my collection of books "A Century of Population Growth-From the First Census of the United States to the Twelfth 1790-1900." Department of Commerce and Labor Bureau of the Census. Publisher: Washington Government Printing Office-1909
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