This Day in the Law
August 2

First Census Conducted (1790)

On August 2, 1790, the first official United States census was taken. Censuses had been taken prior to the Constitution's ratification, with the earliest known census taken in the early 1600s. However, it was not until 1790 that the census was official.

Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution mandates a United States census. In particular, the Constitution requires that the population is counted every 10 years. The results are used to allocate Congressional seats, electoral votes, and government program funding. The United States Census Bureau conducts the census.

The first official census in the United States was taken beginning on August 2, 1790, under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. At that time, the census was managed by the judicial branch of the government. The United States federal court districts assigned U.S. marshals, who hired assistant marshals to conduct the actual count.

The census recorded only the names of the heads of household. Rather than recording the names of all people in a household, a general demographic was taken of the members of the house. This did not change until 1850, when names of all members of a household were recorded. Slaves were not recorded as part of the census.

To date, there have been 22 federal censuses. The current national census is being held in 2010 and the next census is scheduled for 2020.