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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 Census of 1840

The Census of 1840

Science, Politics, and “Insanity” of Free Blacks

(p.30) 3 The Census of 1840
Counting Americans

Paul Schor

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses developments relating to the 1840 census. In the course of the 1810s, gazettes and popular almanacs full of numerical data appeared, and the teaching of arithmetic in the United States was transformed. Thus, statistical data and the capacity to understand them become indispensable to anyone who claimed to speak seriously about national affairs. The growing public interest in “moral statistics,” on the poor and disabled, was fed by the growth of the movement for public health reform. This trend was visible in the 1840 census, which was the first to be carried out under the direction of a “Superintendent of the Census” now with his own staff. The remainder of the chapter focuses on the politicization of the statistical debate on slavery and the defense of erroneous statistics on insanity among free blacks by pro-slavery politicians fighting abolitionism, as well as the rise of statistical experts.

Keywords:   moral statistics, slavery, Superintendent of the Census, US census, insanity, experts, abolitionism

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