Thomas Jefferson Papers

American Philosophical Society Memorial to U.S. Congress, [7–10 January 1800]

American Philosophical Society Memorial
to U.S. Congress

[7–10 Jan. 1800]

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives
of the United States.

The Memorial of the American Philosophical Society,
Respectfully Sheweth,

That this Society, instituted for the promotion of useful knowledge, understanding that the Legislature of the Union have under their consideration a bill for taking a new census of the inhabitants of the United States, consider it as offering an occasion of great value, and not otherwise to be obtained, of ascertaining Sundry facts highly1 interesting and important to Society. Under this impression they beg leave respectfully to submit to the wisdom of the Legislature, the expediency of requiring from their Officers, in addition to the table in the former Act for the same purpose, others presenting a more detailed View of the inhabitants of the United States, under several different aspects.

They consider it as important to determine the effect of the Soil and climate of the United States on the inhabitants thereof; And, for this purpose, dividing life into certain epochs, to ascertain the existing numbers within each epoch, from whence may be calculated the ordinary duration of life in these States, the chances of life for every epoch thereof, and the ratio of the increase of their population:2 firmly believing that the result will be sensibly different from what is presented by the tables of other countries, by which we are, from necessity, in the habit of estimating the probabilities of life here. And they humbly Suggest, as proper for these purposes, the intervals between the following epochs, to wit;—birth, two, five, ten, sixteen, twenty one, and twenty five years of age, and every term of five years from thence to one hundred.

For the purpose also of more exactly distinguishing the increase of population by birth, and by immigration, they propose that another table shall present, in separate columns, the respective numbers of native citizens, citizens of foreign birth, and of Aliens.

In order to ascertain more compleatly the causes which influence life and health, and to furnish a curious and useful document of the distribution of society in these States, and of the conditions and vocations of our fellow citizens, they propose, that still another table shall be formed, specifying, in different columns, the number of free male inhabitants of all ages engaged in business, under the following or such other descriptions as the greater wisdom of the Legislature shall approve, to wit: 1. men of the learned professions, including clergymen, lawyers, physicians, those employed in the fine arts, teachers and scribes, in general. 2. Merchants and traders, including bankers, insurers, brokers and dealers of every kind. 3. Mariners. 4. handy craftsmen. 5. labourers in agriculture. 6. labourers of other descriptions. 7. domestic servants. 8. paupers. 9. persons of no particular calling living on their income: care being to be taken, that every person be noted but once in this table, and that under the description to which he principally belongs.

They flatter themselves, that from these data, truths will result very satisfactory to our citizens; that under the joint influence of soil, climate and occupation, the duration of human3 life in this portion of the earth, will be found at least equal to what it is in any other; and that it’s population increases with a rapidity unequalled in all others.

What other views may be advantageously taken, they submit with those above suggested, to the superior wisdom of Congress, in whose decision they will acquiesce with unqualified respect.

by order of the society

Th: Jefferson President

MS (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 1st sess.); in an unidentified hand except for closing, signature, and one correction by TJ (see note 2 below); undated; endorsed by TJ: “Jan. 10. read & commd.”; also endorsed by a Senate clerk. MS (PPAmP); entirely in TJ’s hand; unsigned; endorsed in another hand for the American Philosophical Society: “Read Jany. 17. 1800.” Printed by order of the Senate, 23 Jan. 1800, with the memorial of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences (see below; In Senate of the United States, January 23d, 1800 [Philadelphia, 1800]; Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from …1639 …to …1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59,14 vols. description ends No. 38739).

A communication from the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, read at a meeting of the American Philosophical Society that TJ presided over on 7 Jan., prompted the writing of this memorial. The academy, established the previous year and filling a void left by the demise of the earlier Connecticut Society of Arts and Sciences, had prepared a memorial to Congress regarding the upcoming federal census of 1800, noting that “The United States, comprehending a great variety of climates, have the power, by legislative measures, to collect and combine, under one view, many important facts, relative to the effects of climate, modes of living, face of the country and occupations, upon the character of diseases, and the duration of human life.” Over the signature of the academy’s president, Timothy Dwight, the Connecticut memorial suggested that the census classify inhabitants by nine categories of age ranging from infants to people over 100, note occupations and marital status, and keep separate “the returns from the several cities, towns, counties or other districts.” The academy, which also sought to mobilize the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston on the subject, urged the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends to “unite their influence with that of the Connecticut Academy, by petitioning Congress to the same effect,” and stressed that there should be “no delay” (Simeon Baldwin to Adam Seybert, 25 Dec. 1799, RC in APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends ; In Senate of the United States, January 23d, 1800; APS, description begins American Philosophical Society description ends Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 290; Rollin G. Osterweis, “The Sesquicentennial History of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences,” Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 38 [1949], 105–7).

At the meeting of 7 Jan. TJ and the society’s three vice presidents, Caspar Wistar, Robert Patterson, and Benjamin Rush, were appointed to draw up a memorial on behalf of the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends . Although the memorial above is nominally addressed to both houses of Congress, in January the second U.S. census was not under consideration by the House of Representatives, which had passed a bill on the subject on 31 Dec. and awaited action by the Senate. There, a committee consisting of James Ross, John Laurance, and Uriah Tracy was to report on the matter, and Ross on 10 Jan. presented the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends memorial to the Senate, Tracy presented the one from the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, and both appeals were referred to the committee. A week later at a meeting of the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , which had not met since the 7th, the document was read into the society’s record and copies were ordered for the academy in Connecticut and the American Academy. The Senate wrote amendments to the census bill, all but one of which were agreed to by the House, and the measure became law on 28 Feb. Under the former act, passed in 1790, the schedules of the first census distinguished free white males 16 or older from free white males under that age, but nothing was recorded about the ages of the rest of the population. The 1800 statute provided for some greater categorization by age, but only for free white males and females. The legislators did not use the epochs mentioned by the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends or the age divisions suggested by the academy, ignoring any distinctions above the age of 45 or for children younger than 10 even among free whites. The schedule allowed for the recording of the county, parish, or town in which each family resided, but made no provision for any data about places of birth or occupations (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 290, 293–4; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:533, 546–7, 584–5, 603, 608, 611, 629, 640; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 3:16, 19, 22, 24, 26–7, 35, 39, 40; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:101–3; 2:11–14).

Tables of other countries: in calculating human lifespans and the associated question of the duration of a generation, as in his 6 Sep. 1789 letter to Madison containing the assertion that “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living,” TJ relied on information published by the Comte de Buffon (Herbert E. Sloan, Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt [New York, 1995], 52, 84, 209, 277n, 356n; Vol. 15:394, 399; Vol. 24:95).

1Word interlined in MS at PPAmP in place of “greatly.”

2Word interlined by TJ in place of “proportion”; MS at PPAmP: “population.”

3Word interlined in MS at PPAmP.

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