A History of the Census in the United States : Part 7

The Seventh Census: Census Day was June 1, 1850.

Zachary Taylor was President of the United States on Census Day, June 1, 1850.

Authorizing Legislation

The Census Act of 1840 (signed into law on March 3, 1839 and amended by an act of February 26, 1840) authorized establishing a centralized census office during each enumeration. Congress left the design of the questionnaire to the discretion of the secretary of state, but specified that inquiries be made of each household. Subjects among the inquiries were to include “the pursuits, industry, education, and resources of the country.” New population inquiries included questions about school attendance, literacy, and vocation. In March 1849, Congress enacted a bill establishing a census board whose membership consisted of the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the postmaster general. The law authorized this board to prepare and cause to be printed such forms and schedules as may be necessary for the full enumeration of the inhabitants of the United States; it also authorized the board to prepare forms and schedules for collecting information on mines, agriculture, commerce, manufactures, education, and other topics, as well as “exhibit a full view of the pursuits, industry, education, and resources of the country.”

The seventh census was governed by the provisions of an act of May 23, 1850 that directed that six schedules be used to collect the information requested by the Congress. The act directed enumerators to return their results to the secretary of the interior by November 1, 1850.


The number of population inquiries grew in the 1850 census. Every free person’s name was to be listed, not just the head of the household. The marshals also collected additional “social statistics,” including information on taxes, schools, crime, wages, value of the estate, etc. and data on mortality.

Each marshal was also responsible for subdividing his district into “known civil divisions,” such as counties, townships, or wards, and ensuring that his assistants’ returns were completed properly.

Further Information

Information provided from Census.gov

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