Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3

Document 19

James Madison, Census Bill, House of Representatives

25--26 Jan. , 2 Feb. 1790Papers 13:8--9, 15--16

Mr. Madison Observed that they had now an opportunity of obtaining the most useful information for those who should hereafter be called upon to legislate for their country if this bill was extended so as to embrace some other objects besides the bare enumeration of the inhabitants; it would enable them to adapt the public measures to the particular circumstances of the community. In order to know the various interests of the United States, it was necessary that the description of the several classes into which the community was divided, should be accurately known; on this knowledge the legislature might proceed to make a proper provision for the agricultural, commercial and manufacturing interests, but without it they could never make their provisions in due proportion.

This kind of information, he observed, all legislatures had wished for; but this kind of information had never been obtained in any country. He wished, therefore, to avail himself of the present opportunity of accomplishing so valuable a purpose. If the plan was pursued in taking every future census, it would give them an opportunity of marking the progress of the society, and distinguishing the growth of every interest. This would furnish ground for many useful calculations, and at the same time answer the purpose of a check on the officers who were employed to make the enumeration, forasmuch as the aggregate number was divided into parts, any imposition might be discovered with proportionable ease. If these ideas met the approbation of the house, he hoped they would pass over the schedule in the second clause of the bill, and he would endeavor to prepare something to accomplish this object.

. . . . .

Mr. Madison presented a schedule, which he moved should be inserted in lieu of that annexed to the bill, viz.

Free white males, under 16; free white males, above 16; white females, free blacks, and slaves, the heads of families, &c.

And he likewise proposed that a particular schedule should be included in the bill, specifying the number of persons employed in different professions and arts, carried on within the United States; such as merchants, mechanics, manufacturers, &c. &c.

. . . . .

Mr. Madison. If the object to be attained by this particular enumeration be as important in the judgment of this house, as it appears to my mind, they will not suffer a small defect in the plan, to defeat the whole. And I am very sensible, Mr. Speaker, that there will be more difficulty attendant on the taking the census, in the way required by the constitution, and which we are obliged to perform, than there will be in the additional trouble of making all the distinctions contemplated in the bill. The classes of people most troublesome to enumerate, in this schedule, are happily those resident in large towns, the greatest number of artisans live in populous cities, and compact settlements, where distinctions are made with great ease.

I take it, sir, that in order to accommodate our laws to the real situation of our constituents, we ought to be acquainted with that situation. It may be impossible to ascertain it as far as I wish, but we may ascertain it so far as to be extremely useful, when we come to pass laws, affecting any particular description of people. If gentlemen have any doubts with respect to its utility, I cannot satisfy them in a better manner, than by referring them to the debates which took place upon the bills, intend[ed], collaterally, to benefit the agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing parts of the community. Did they not wish then to know the relative proportion of each, and the exact number of every division, in order that they might rest their arguments on facts, instead of assertions and conjectures? Will any gentleman pretend to doubt, but our regulations would have been better accommodated to the real state of the society than they are? If our decisions had been influenced by actual returns, would they not have been varied, according as the one side or the other was more or less numerous? We should have given less encouragement in some instances, and more in others; but in every instance, we should have proceeded with more light and satisfaction.

The gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Sedgwick) has asked, why the learned professions were not included: I have no objection to giving a column to the general body. I think the work would be rendered more complete by the addition, and if the decision of such a motion turned upon my voice, they shall be added. But it may nevertheless be observed, that in such a character, they can never be objects of legislative attention or cognizance. As to those employed in teaching and inculcating the duties of religion, there may be some indelicacy in singling them out, as the general government is proscribed from interfering, in any manner whatever, in matters respecting religion; and it may be thought to do this, in ascertaining who, and who are not, ministers of the gospel. Conceiving the extension of the plan to be useful, and not difficult, I hope it may meet the ready concurrence of this house.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, Document 19
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of James Madison. Edited by William T. Hutchinson et al. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1962--77 (vols. 1--10); Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977--(vols. 11--).

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