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Counting AmericansHow the US Census Classified the Nation$
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Paul Schor

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199917853

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199917853.001.0001

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The Creation of the Federal Census by the Constitution of the United States

The Creation of the Federal Census by the Constitution of the United States

A Political Instrument

(p.15) 1 The Creation of the Federal Census by the Constitution of the United States
Counting Americans

Paul Schor

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses the creation of the federal census. The US census was created to put into operation the system of checks and balances. It attributed to each state through apportionment, a number of representatives in proportion to its population as well as a level of tax contribution, while the Three-Fifths Compromise required that slaves be counted as less than free people. The first US census took place in 1790, framed by a law passed by Congress, the First Census Act. This law inaugurated a tradition that continued up to the census of 1930: the list, the order, and the text of the questions on the schedules followed the text of the law, which meant that Congress played a central role in the preparation of the census. It added to the distinction of status (free or slave) a distinction of color to distinguish free blacks from whites.

Keywords:   balance of powers, checks and balances, US Constitution, apportionment, First Census Act, US Congress, US census, Three-Fifths Compromise, taxation

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