HM - September 2019 - Teaching Tools - Census

Teaching Tools

 Teach Your Students about the Census on Constitution Day
By U.S. Census Bureau Staff

Picture it: Philadelphia in 1787. The Founding Fathers are debating over four major issues regarding the first census during the Constitutional Convention. During these long months, none of the representatives question the need for a periodical census. Instead, the debate centers around how to ensure that the count is both accurate and fair, how to count the people (both free and enslaved), what topics to include in the count, and ultimately, how to apportion the representatives to each state.
James Madison was at the forefront of promoting the census as more than a simple count of people. He knew that information gathered during the census could be used to better understand the makeup of our country. Although he advocated for questions on education and occupations, other members feared that the people would see it as too intrusive and not cooperate. Instead, Congress settled on counting white males over 16 years (in order to ascertain the number of men of military age), white males under 16 years, free white females, all other free and enslaved people. This compromise allowed Congress to increase and vary the questions asked in subsequent censuses in order to meet the changing informational needs of our nation.
In the end, the Founders understood the importance of enshrining the Census in the Constitution. They had a bold and ambitious plan to empower the people over their new government. The plan was to count every person living in the newly created United States of America and to use that count to determine representation in the Congress. Their goal was accomplished in 1790 when the first census was conducted, as it has every 10 years since then.

Use Free Statistics in Schools Resources
Do your students know that the census is mentioned in Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution? Depending on what grade you teach, your students may have been newborns or almost pre-teens when the last census was conducted.
Explore free resources for Constitution Day from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools program. History lessons available on various topics for different grade levels, including:

  • Voting Trends in America, 1964-2014 (grades 5-6)
  • Population Profile of Our New Nation: A Comparison of the 1790 and 1800 Censuses (grades 7-8)
  • Trends in Congressional Apportionment (grades 9-10)
  • Exploring 19th Century Population Growth through Interactive Maps (grades 11-12)
You can even access historical documents like the Census Act of 1790, which was provided for the very first taking of the census in 1790. Five-minute warm-up activities such as the Apportionment Map and The Amazing Apportionment Machine will teach students about the amount of seats states have in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition, new 2020 Census materials can help teach students about how the census affects their communities and their civic duty to be counted.
Discover more Statistics in Schools resources for Constitution Day here, and learn more about the upcoming 2020 Census at