Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CENSUS. Census taking, or the counting of the population of a country, has been practiced from time immemorial. The Bible makes mention of it, but not always approvingly. The oriental nations still retain their prejudices against the taking of a census, which is so necessary in every state. It is fortunate that Christian countries do not share these prejudices; for there are many cases in which it is indispensable to know the number of the population.


—The operation is not, however, so easy as one might believe. Various systems have been tried, and agreement among specialists in the matter is of only recent date. Formerly the custom was to count the legal population, that is, inhabitants with a domicile, and who were present, or only temporarily absent, when the census was taken. Now the census gives the actual population.


—The actual population is that which is found in each locality, at a given time, whether it be "resident" or "floating." An inhabitant of Bordeaux or Lille, so-journing in Paris at the time of the census, would, under the old system in France, be numbered among the inhabitants of Bordeaux or Lille, and under the new system, among the floating population of Paris (as a traveler).


—In order to ascertain the actual population the census must be taken throughout the entire extent of a country on the same day (or same night). For this reason, before the day indicated for the taking of the census, the government sends to all the house-holders blanks which they are required to fill. This is the method adopted in England, and we think it may be recommended. We would not even hesitate to establish by law, as that country does, a penalty against such as refuse to furnish the desired information, or who give it in an incorrect manner. In Germany they have tried to substitute individual blanks for family ones, but we do not know whether the experiment has been successful.


—In some countries, in France for example, the taking of the census lasts several weeks, because the census-takers go from house to house. This method admits of more errors, and especially of more repetitions than the other. The traveler may be counted in two places in the same census.


—In many countries the census includes, beside the inhabitants, an enumeration of the cattle, houses, and factories, and the government also avails itself of this circumstance to collect other information.


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