The History of the First American Census
and the Constitutional Language on Censustaking:
Report of a Workshop

Margo Anderson and Stephen E. Fienberg


On Friday November 13, and Saturday, November 14, 1998, with support from the Donner Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a workshop on the history of the First American Census in 1790. The workshop was attended by scholars with expertise in the history of statistics, the history of censustaking and early American history. The group considered the format, capacities, and impact of the First American (1790) Census. The questions that prompted the workshop on the 1790 census experience derive largely from contemporary issues of censustaking in America, and the conflict between congressional Republicans and the Clinton administration over the proper format for taking the 2000 census. The controversy emerged in 1996 and intensified in early 1998 when the U.S. House of Representatives sued the Clinton administration over its plan for the 2000 census.

The workshop addressed three primary issues:

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