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Factfinder for the Nation: History and Organization

Report Number CFF No. 4 [Revised]


Factfinding is one of America’s oldest activities. In the early 1600s, a census was taken in Virginia, and people were counted in nearly all of the British colonies that became the United States at the time of the Revolutionary War. (There also were censuses in other areas of the country before they became parts of the United States.)

Following independence, there was an almost immediate need for a census of the entire Nation. Both the number of seats each state was to have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the states’ respective shares in paying for the war were to be based on population. Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1787, provided:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers.... The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

Our Founding Fathers had concluded that the states’ wishes to report few people in order to lower their shares in the war debt would be offset by a desire for the largest possible representation in Congress. Thus, the census would be fairly accurate.

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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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