Census in the Constitution: William Fliss
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Census in the Constitution: William Fliss

October 12, 2019

[MUSIC] The Census is not a modern
innovation that’s been thrust upon the American people. It is as old as the
republic itself. When we look at the Census data,
we can watch the U.S. transform from this fledgling republic, with relatively sparse
population, scattered on the
Atlantic seaboard, and we can watch it transform into this continental super
power that today is able to project so much
power globally. [MUSIC] In the late 18th,
early 19th century, the power of a nation was gauged
by the size of its population. It was understood that
if you were a country, the larger your population,
the more prestige and power you had
on the world stage. And so, here we have the United
States, this brand new republic in the midst of a world, a dangerous world
of colonial empires. It needed respect
in order to survive. And so, they saw the Census as
a way of providing the numbers to be able to say
“Look, we’re growing. We are strong.” When the Congress passed
the first Census law, it was clear they believed
that Americans were obliged to participate in the census. It was a mandatory thing. There was no choice
in the matter. They wrote into the law
that anyone who refused to participate in the Census
or rendered a false return for their household
would be fined $20.00. Now today $20.00 seems like it’s
the price of a parking ticket, but in 1790, $20.00
represented a severe penalty. And this provision for a penalty
for non-compliance was repeated in subsequent Censuses. The Census has played
an important role in the history of
the United States. It is an institution
that looks backwards and at the same time
looks forward. [MUSIC]

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