The Census War

Nearly a hundred years ago two rival cities fought hard and dirty to win the battle of numbers

In mandating a national census every ten years, the framers of the U.S. Constitution envisioned a counting, not a bashing, of heads. Certainly the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen anything like the strife between a pair of Minnesota cities perched on opposite banks of the Mississippi River. But the intense rivalry between the twin towns of Minneapolis and St. Paul peaked a century ago during the 1890 census, and the tallying of their populations became a battle of neighboring police forces, lawyers, judges, and crooked enumerators. Read more »

The Great Enumeration

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, “said Abraham Lincoln, “we could better judge what to do, and haw to do it. “For nearly two hundred years, the United States Census has been trying to find out.

Americans are a counting nation. They like figureslarge figures such as the gross national product, industrial production, consumer spending, consumption of energy, even measures of economic activity in such arcane areas as the production of brooms, brushes, and pickles. Especially do our people like to count themselves. This has been going on for a long time, serially in every year ending in zero since 1790. There is more to this than a mere quirk of national character.Read more »