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Racial Reorganization and the United States Census 1850–1930: Mulattoes, Half-Breeds, Mixed Parentage, Hindoos, and the Mexican Race

  • Jennifer L. Hochschild (a1) and Brenna Marea Powell (a1)


Between 1850 and 1930, demographic upheaval in the United States was connected to reorganization of the racial order. Socially and politically recognized boundaries between groups shifted, new groups emerged, others disappeared, and notions of who belonged in which category changed. All recognized racial groups—blacks, whites, Indians, Asians, Mexicans and others—were affected. This article investigates how and why census racial classification policies changed during this period, only to stabilize abruptly before World War II. In the context of demographic transformations and their political consequences, we find that census policy in any given year was driven by a combination of scientific, political, and ideological motivations.

Based on this analysis, we rethink existing theoretical approaches to censuses and racial classification, arguing that a nation's census is deeply implicated in and helps to construct its social and political order. Censuses provide the concepts, taxonomy, and substantive information by which a nation understands its component parts as well as the contours of the whole; censuses both create the image and provide the mirror of that image for a nation's self-reflection. We conclude by outlining the meaning of this period in American history for current and future debates over race and classification.



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1. Qtd. in Schor, Paul, “Mobilizing for Pure Prestige? Challenging Federal Census Ethnic Categories in the USA (1850–1940),” International Social Science Journal 57 (2005): 99.

2. Qtd. in Alterman, Hyman, Counting People: The Census in History (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969), 232.

3. U.S. Census Office, Report on Population of the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1895), xciii.

4. Through 1900, the Census Office was newly convened every decade in order to conduct each census and produce the subsequent analysis and reports. Congress created the Census Bureau as a permanent government agency in 1902, upgrading its status at the same time.

5. Willcox, Walter, “Census Statistics of the Negro,” Yale Review 13 (1904): 274.

6. Or even grandparents' place of birth, if the parent was born at sea.

7. After a first usage, often in quotations, we continue by using the terms common to the period about which we are writing. Following the same logic, we do not capitalize “negro” until the Census Bureau itself started to do so, in 1918.

8. According to Census Bureau lore, the “other” line added to the race question in 1910 served as the locus for “mixed race” enumerations until 1990, when it became primarily the site for Hispanics who did not identify with any of the United States' racial categories.

9. In 1950, the Census Bureau did measure fractions of Indian blood on a supplemental schedule used only on reservations.

10. The term is from Hollinger, David, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

11. Rolt-Wheeler, Francis, The Boy with the U.S. Census (Charleston SC, BiblioBazaar, 2006 [1911]), Preface.

12. Kim, Claire, “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans,” Politics and Society 27 (1999): 103–36.

13. Bleich, Erik, Race Politics in Britain and France: Ideas and Policymaking since the 1960's (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Patrick Simon, “Ethnic Statistics: Fighting against Discrimination,” presented at Social Statistics and Ethnic Diversity: Should We Count, How Should We Count, and Why?, Montreal, Quebec: 6–8 Dec. 2007.

14. Layton, Heather and Patrinos, Harry, “Estimating the Number of Indigenous Peoples in Latin America,” in Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America, ed. Hall, Gillette and Patrinos, Harry (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 2539.

15. Andrews, George, Afro-Latin America: 1800–2000. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

16. Horowitz, Donald, Ethnic Groups in Conflict, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

17. Ann Morning, “Ethnic Classification in Global Perspective: A Cross-National Survey of the 2000 Census Round” Population Research and Policy Review (forthcoming); Simon, Patrick, “Ethnic” Statistics and Data Protection in the Council of Europe Counties (Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe, European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2007); Victor Thompson and Tahu Kukutai, “Inside-Out: The Politics of Enumerating the Nation,” presented at Social Statistics and Ethnic Diversity: Should We Count, How Should We Count, and Why?, Montreal, Quebec: 6–8 Dec. 2007.

18. Prewitt, Kenneth., “A Nation Imagined, a Nation Measured: The Jeffersonian Legacy,” in Across the Continent: Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and the Making of America, ed. Seefeldt, Douglas, Hantman, Jeffrey, and Onuf, Peter (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005), 132–68; Tishkov, Valery, “The Population Census and the Construction of Identity,” Anthropology and Archeology of Eurasia 44 (2005): 1040; Tom Moultrie and Rob Dorrington, “Used for Ill; Used for Good: A Century of Collecting Data on Race in South Africa,” presented at Social Statistics and Ethnic Diversity: Should We Count, How Should We Count, and Why?, Montreal, Quebec, 6–8 Dec. 2007.

19. Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Politics of Ethnicity and Population Censuses in Sri Lanka,” presented at Social Statistics and Ethnic Diversity: Should We Count, How Should We Count, and Why?, Montreal, Quebec, 6–8 Dec. 2007.

20. Tahu Kukutai and Robert Didham, “Can National Identity Become Ethnic Identity: The Case of the Emerging New Zealander Ethnic Group,” presented at Social Statistics and Ethnic Diversity: Should We Count, How Should We Count, and Why?, Montreal, Quebec, 6–8 Dec. 2007.

21. Prewitt, Kenneth, “Politics and Science in Census Taking,” in The American People: Census 2000, ed. Farley, Reynolds and Haaga, John (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2005), 3.

22. Prewitt, “A Nation Imagined,” 152.

23. Anderson, Margo and Seltzer, William, “Challenges to the Confidentiality of U.S. Federal Statistics, 1910–1965,” Journal of Official Statistics 23 (2007): 134.

24. Telles, Edward, Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

25. Anderson, Margo, The American Census: A Social History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988); Rogers, Reuel, “Race-based Coalitions among Minority Groups: Afro-Caribbean Immigrants and African-Americans in New York City,” Urban Affairs Review 39 (2004): 283317.

26. Lijphart, Arend, Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977).

27. Prewitt, “A Nation Imagined,” 139; see also Ngai, Mae, “The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924,” Journal of American History 86 (1999): 6792; Nobles, Melissa, Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).

28. Wacquant, Loïc, “For an Analytic of Racial Domination,” Political Power and Social Theory 11 (1997): 221–34; Goldberg, David Theo, Racial Subjects: Writing on Race in America (New York: Routledge, 1997); Jalali, Rita and Lipset, Seymour Martin, “Racial and Ethnic Conflicts: A Global Perspective,” Political Science Quarterly 107 (1992): 585606; Zuberi, Tukufu, Thicker than Blood: How Racial Statistics Lie (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).

29. Nobles, Shades of Citizenship.

30. Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991).

31. Mezey, Naomi, “Erasure and Recognition: The Census, Race, and the National Imagination,” Northwestern University Law Review 97 (2003): 1730.

32. Ibid.; Williams, Kim, Mark One or More: Civil Rights in Multiracial America (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2006).

33. Hattam, Victoria, Ethnic Shadows: Jews, Latinos, and Race Politics in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

34. Kertzer, David and Arel, Dominique, Census and Identity: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Language in National Censuses (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 27; see also Rallu, Jean-Louis, Piché, Victor, and Simon, Patrick, “Démographie et Ethnicité: Une Relation Ambigue,” in Démographie: Analyse et Synthése, ed. Caselli, Graziella, Vallin, Jacques, and Wunsch, Guillaume (Paris, France: Institut National d'Etudes Démographiques, 2004), 481516.

35. Morning, “Ethnic Classification in Global Perspective”; Thompson and Kukutai, “Inside-Out.”

36. European Commission, Comparative Study on the Collection of Data to Measure the Extent and Impact of Discrimination within the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands (Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2004), 5.

37. Lieberson, Stanley, “The Enumeration of Ethnic and Racial Groups in the Census: Some Devilish Principles,” in Challenges of Measuring an Ethnic World: Science, Politics, and Reality, ed. Joint Canada-United States Conference on the Measurement of Ethnicity (Ottowa, Ontario: Statistics Canada and U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993), 26.

38. Anderson, Margo, ed., Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2000); see also Eckler, A. Ross, The Bureau of the Census (New York: Praeger, 1972).

39. William Petersen begins similarly, identifying four factors that jointly produce particular census policies: science, law (for apportionment and resource allocation), politics, and expediency, or “the constant effort to accommodate fiscal or technical restraints” (Petersen, William, Ethnicity Counts [New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997], 7172). He does not consider racial ideology.

40. For inter-institutional battles for control, see among many others, Carpenter, Daniel, The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks, and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862–1928 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Moe, Terry, “Power and Political Institutions,” Perspectives on Politics 3 (2005): 215–33; Epstein, David and O'Halloran, Sharyn, Delegating Powers: A Transaction Cost Politics Approach to Policy Making under Separate Powers (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999); DeShazo, J. R. and Freeman, Jody, “The Congressional Competition to Control Delegated Power” Texas Law Review 81 (2003): 1443–519.

41. Gates, Scott and Brehm, John, Working, Shirking, and Sabotage: Bureaucratic Response to a Democratic Public (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1997); Porter, Theodore, Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995).

42. Hayward, Clarissa, De-Facing Power (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Wilson, James Q., Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (New York: Basic Books, 1989).

43. Kaufman, Herbert, The Forest Ranger: A Study in Administrative Behavior (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1960); DiIulio, John, Governing Prisons: A Comparative Study of Correctional Management (New York: Free Press, 1987).

44. Gerring, John, Party Ideologies in America 1828–1996 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

45. Here we follow the logic of Rogers Smith: the “multiple traditions approach holds that American political actors have always promoted civic ideologies that blend … elements in various combinations. … [L]aws have always emerged as none too coherent compromises among the distinct mixes of civic conceptions advanced by the more powerful actors in different eras” (Smith, Rogers, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997], 6).

46. Exceptions include Petersen, William, “Politics and the Measurement of Ethnicity,” in The Politics of Numbers, ed. Alonso, William and Starr, Paul (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1987): 187233; Bennett, Claudette, “Racial Categories Used in the Decennial Censuses, 1790 to the Present,” Government Information Quarterly 17 (2000): 161–80; and Lee, Sharon, “Racial Classifications in the US Census: 1890–1990,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 16 (1993): 7594.

47. Nobles, Shades of Citizenship; Heidi Ardizzone, “Red Blooded Americans: Mulattoes and the Melting Pot in U.S. Racialist and Nationalist Discourse, 1890–1930” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1997); Davis, F. James, Who Is Black?: One Nation's Definition (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001); Hickman, Christine, “The Devil and the One Drop Rule: Racial Categories, African Americans, and the U.S. Census,” Michigan Law Review 95 (1997): 1161–265; Grieve, Victoria, Any Perceptible Trace: Representations of the “Mulatto” in the United States Census, 1850–1920 (M.A. thesis, University of Georgia, 1996); Jones, Trina, “Shades of Brown: The Law of Skin Color,” Duke Law Journal 49 (2000): 1487–557.

48. King, Desmond, Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the Origins of the Diverse Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Perlmann, Joel, ‘Race or People’: Federal Race Classifications for Europeans in America, 1898–1913 (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Levy Economics Institute, 2001); Hattam, Ethnic Shadows; Paul Schor, “Changing Racial Categories: The United States Bureau of the Census and Racial Minorities, 1900–1940,” Organization of American Historians, St. Louis, Missouri: 30 Mar.–2 Apr. 2000.

49. Rodriguez, Clara, Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in the United States (New York: New York University Press, 2000); Hernandez, José, Estrada, Leo, and Alvirez, David, “Census Data and the Problem of Conceptually Defining the Mexican American Population,” Social Science Quarterly 53 (1997): 671–87; Pinal, Jorge del, “Treatment and Counting of Latinos in the Census,” in The Latino Encyclopedia, ed. Chabrán, Richard and Chabrán, Rafael (New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1996).

On American Indians see William Seltzer and Margo Anderson, Excluding Indians Not Taxed: Federal Censuses and Native-Americans in the 19th Century. Joint Statistical Meetings, Baltimore MD: 8–12 Aug. 1999; Snipp, C. Matthew, American Indians: The First of This Land (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1989).

50. Hodes, Martha, “Fractions and Fictions in the United States Census of 1890,” in Haunted by Empire: Race and Colonial Intimacies in North American History, ed. Stoler, Ann Laura (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 240–70; Mezey, “Erasure and Recognition.”

51. Qtd. in Nobles, Shades of Citizenship, 33–34.

52. Horsman, Reginald, Dr. Nott of Mobile: Southerner, Physician, and Racial Theorist (New Orleans: Louisiana State University Press, 1987).

53. Nobles, Shades of Citizenship; Anderson, The American Census.

54. Qtd. in ibid., 40–41. Diana Magnuson claims that the newly constituted Census Board, an advisory committee comprised mainly of eminent Northern statisticians, recommended adding “color” as well as “degree of removal from pure blood” to the slave schedule. She does not explain the Board's purpose, but nothing suggests that its members endorsed polygenicist racial science. So several streams may have fed the proposal to identify racial mixture. Diana Magnuson, “The Making of a Modern Census: The United States Census of Population, 1790–1940,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1995).

55. Anderson, The American Census; Magnuson, “Making of a Modern Census.”

56. Cohen, Patricia, A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982); Porter, Theodore, The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820–1900 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1986).

57. Wright, Carroll and Hunt, William, The History and Growth of the United States Census, Prepared for the Senate Committee on the Census (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1900), 47.

58. Ibid., 87. Forty years later, census superintendent Francis Walker described “the continually expanding detail into which the traditional classes of statistics will inevitably be drawn, under the ever-growing popular demand for local and minute information” (Walker, Francis, “The Eleventh Census of the United States,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 2 [1888]: 136–37).

59. An official census history, for example, downplayed the role of ideological and partisan dispute in 1850 in favor of procedural and scientific motivations: “The focal point of the debate was what level of detailed information to gather about slaves, but the debate became a debate on the census itself and what was the proper reach of the federal government. At the same time, new questions were asked that gathered information about schools, crime, churches, and pauperism” as well as about birthplace of the householder and his or her parents (General Accounting Office, Decennial Census: Overview of Historical Census Issues [Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1998], 21).

60. Williamson, Joel, New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States (New York: Free Press, 1980); Bodenhorn, Howard, “The Mulatto Advantage: The Biological Consequences of Complexion in Rural Antebellum Virginia,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 33 (2002): 2146; Bodenhorn, and Ruebeck, Christopher, “Colorism and African-American Wealth: Evidence from the Nineteenth-Century South,” Journal of Population Economics 20 (2007): 599620.

61. On disputes over institutional prerogatives and apportionment, see Anderson, The American Census.

62. After all of the debate, the 1850 Population report made little use of the mulatto category and contained very little information about mulattoes, except for one brief but highly pejorative footnote by Superintendent Kennedy. The report explained the paucity of information bureaucratically—the data “not having been prepared when the other facts on population were being tabulated, could not now be presented in greater detail without expense and delay” (U.S. Census Office, The Seventh Census of the United States: 1850 [Washington, DC: R. Armstrong, 1853], 63).

63. Annual Report of the Secretary of Interior. 51st Cong. 2nd Sess., House Exec. Doc. 1 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1889), 2724; qtd. in Magnuson, “Making of a Modern Census,” 8. See App. Table A2 for information on the expansion of the scope of the census since its inception.

64. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2002), 27.

65. As one reader of this article has commented, the silences in the historical record sometimes speak as loudly as the spoken or written word. This is one of those occasions; we have no information on why there were no clear instructions to enumerators on how to determine fractions of black blood. Perhaps the Census Office assumed that everyone was practiced in distinguishing fractions of black blood, or it was so hostile to this Congressional mandate (see below) that it simply refused to waste any unnecessary resources on an impossible task. Analysis of the 1890 census is made more difficult by the fact that most of the original schedules for that year were later destroyed in a fire (Anderson, The American Census).

66. U.S. House of Representatives, 50th Cong., 1st Sess., H.R. 11036, A Bill to Ascertain and Exhibit the Physical Effects Upon the Offspring Resulting from the Amalgamation of Human Species (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1888), 1.

67. Qtd. in Nobles, Shades of Citizenship, 58; see also Ardizzone, “Red Blooded Americans,” 188.

68. Vann Woodward, C., The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 2d rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971); Dailey, Jane, Gilmore, Glenda, and Simon, Bryant, eds. Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil Rights (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000).

69. Qtd. in Nobles, Shades of Citizenship, 57–58.

70. U.S. Census Office, Report on Population of the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1895), xciii.

71. Porter, Robert, “The Eleventh United States Census,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 57 (1894): 655.

72. Mayo-Smith, Richmond, “The Eleventh Census of the United States.” The Economic Journal 1 (1891): 46, 48.

73. One prominent commentator found the important innovations of the 1890 census to be the “electrical tabulating machine” and “statistics on the number and amount of mortgages” (328–29).“The United States Census of 1890,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. 55 (1892): 328–29 (no author). To Porter, its “most striking feature” was authorization to hire expert statisticians to supervise and write the special reports—a political claim about seeking autonomy from Congress and other interferences and a scientific bid for professional legitimacy (Porter, “The Eleventh United States Census,” 644).

74. Ibid. (Emphasis added).

75. Mayo-Smith, Richmond, “On Census Methods,” Political Science Quarterly 5 (1890): 260.

76. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Special Reports: Supplementary Analysis and Derivative Tables: Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906), 189.

77. National Archives, Record Group 29, folder Advisory Committee 12/14 and 15, 1928 (hereafter RG 29).

78. Eckler, The Bureau of the Census.

79. Reuter, Edward, “The American Mulatto,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 140 (1928): 3643; Park, Robert, “Mentality of Racial Hybrids,” American Journal of Sociology 36 (1931): 534–51; Frazier, E. Franklin, “Children in Black and Mulatto Families,” American Journal of Sociology 39 (1933): 1229; Herskovits, Melville, “A Critical Discussion of the ‘Mulatto Hypothesis’,” Journal of Negro Education 3 (1934): 389402; Stonequist, Everett, “Race Mixture and the Mulatto,” in Race Relations and the Race Problem: A Definition and an Analysis, ed. Thompson, Edgar (New York: Greenwood Press, 1939): 246–68.

80. As always, space limitations affected decisions about what to ask on the population schedule and how to ask it. In 1930 there was space available on the punch cards for 11 race or color options [for details and images, see (Truesdell 1965)]. Margo Anderson argues (note to authors, 24 Jan. 2008) that the introduction of “Mexican” squeezed the mulatto category out. However, a new “Hawaiian” category appeared on the punch cards at the same time; if mulatto had retained social and scientific significance, it is unlikely that the (relatively tiny) Hawaiian category would have been allowed to supersede it.

81. Du Bois, W. E. B., “The Twelfth Census and the Negro Problems,” The Southern Workman 29 (1900): 307. The Census Office took Du Bois seriously, judging by the fact that it commissioned him shortly thereafter to compile and analyze census data on the state of black agriculture (U.S. Census Office, Bulletin 8, Negroes in the United States [Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904]).

82. H. L. Mencken later claimed that it was Washington who persuaded the Census Office to drop mixed race categories after 1890 and to “beg[in] calling all colored persons of African blood Negroes” (H. L. Mencken, “Designations for Colored Folk,” American Speech 19 [1944], 170, emphasis in original). Miller frequently castigated white race scientists as well as the Census Bureau's bungled efforts to collect data on racial mixture on the grounds that “the dual caste system is undemocratic and un-Christian enough; to add a third would be inexcusable compounding of iniquity” (Miller, Kelly, “Review of The Mulatto in the United States,” American Journal of Sociology 25 [1919]: 220).

83. Lemus, Rienzi, “Chas. E. Hall Rated The Most Important Washington Negro,” Richmond Planet 8 Jan. 1938; Lemus, , “Most Important Negro In Black Cabinet Is Charlie Hall in Dept. of Commerce,” (Oklahoma City, OK) Black Dispatch, 8 Jan. 1938.

84. In Charles E. Hall papers, from the personal collection of Rodney Ross, Archivist, National Archives; see also King, Desmond, “The Racial Bureaucracy,” Governance 12 (1999): 345–77.

85. For more detail, see Mezey, “Erasure and Recognition.”

86. U.S. Census Office, The Statistics of the Population of the United States … From the Original Returns of the Ninth Census (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1872), xii.

87. U.S. House of Representatives, 41st Cong., 2nd Sess., Report of the Ninth Census (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1870), 51.

88. Kennedy, Joseph, Argument Adverse to the Bills 409 and 477: U.S. Senate, 45th Cong., 2d sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1878), 2.

89. Moreover, due to treaty obligations, any policy choice would need to be negotiated with the Chinese (and later Japanese) governments. The fact that foreign sovereign powers continued to claim responsibility for their citizens residing in the United States arguably enhanced Americans' perception of Asian immigrants as foreign subjects, not assimilable new Americans.

90. U.S. Senate, 44th Cong., 2nd sess. Report of the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1877), v, vii.

91. On Chinese exclusion see, among other works, Gyory, Andrew, Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Tichenor, Daniel, Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002); Zolberg, Aristide, A Nation by Design (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Lee, Erika, At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

92. U.S. House of Representatives, 45th Cong., 1st sess. Chinese Immigration: An Address to the People of the United States upon the Social, Moral, and Political Effect of Chinese Immigration (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1877), 8.

93. U.S. Congress, 44th Cong, 2nd Sess. Report of the Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1877), 1238.

94. U.S. House of Representatives, 51st Cong., 2nd Sess. Chinese Immigration (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), 68, 118.

95. Ibid., 153. A few speakers or officials conceded that if the number of Japanese immigrants began to approach that of the Chinese, they might well change their views (e.g. ibid., 342). But everyone preferred to postpone that issue for the future—when it did, in fact, arise, with the predictable outcome of exclusion.

96. Takaki, Ronald, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1989).

97. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Special Reports: Supplementary Analysis and Derivative Tables: Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906), 176.

98. Steuart, William, “The Conduct of the Fourteenth Census,” Quarterly Publications of the American Statistical Association 17 (1921): 575.

99. Leonard, Karen, Making Ethnic Choices: California's Punjabi-Mexican-Americans (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992); Melendy, H. Brett, Asians in America: Filipinos, Koreans, and East Indians (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977).

100. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population 1910: Volume 1, General Report and Analysis (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1913), 129.

101. The term “Hindu” may have derived from popular terminology for language (“Hindustani”) or geographic location (“Hindustan”), but it is not clear why this term was chosen instead of other possibilities. Confusion was the dominant feature: for example, enumerators recorded incorrect language for Punjabi immigrants (Leonard, Making Ethnic Choices), and Muslim immigrants from South Asia were assigned a wide variety of mother tongues and countries of birth (Vivek Bald, “Overlapping Diasporas, Multiracial Lives: South Asian Muslims in U.S. Communities of Color, 1880–1950,” Souls 8 [2006]: 3–18).

102. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population 1910, 126.

103. U.S. House of Representatives, 51st Cong., 1st Sess. Enumeration of the Chinese Population of the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1890), 1.

104. Ibid.

105. U.S. Senate, 51st Cong., 1st Sess. Congressional Record—Senate (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1890), 2979.

106. Ibid., 2982.

107. If only to show that partisan politics is never far from ideology, the Democratic Senator Eustis went on to deplore the need, if this bill passed, “to have hundreds of additional Republican enumerators…. If they want to increase the expenditures for this census and to increase their vast army of enumerators, it can be done without presenting to the Chinese residents of our country chromos and engravings. A leather tag would be much cheaper. I have no doubt that you could buy one for 10 cents and tie it to a string and let a Chinaman wear it around his neck” (ibid., 2980).

108. Ibid.

109. Mezey, “Erasure and Recognition,” 1730.

110. Rolt-Wheeler, The Boy with the U.S. Census, 202.

111. Walker, Francis, Discussions in Economics and Statistics, vol. 2: Statistics, National Growth, and Social Economics (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1899), 447.

112. Ibid., 439.

113. Ibid., 417–26; for a refutation, also using census data, see Gillette, J. M., “Immigration and the Increase of Population in the United States,” Social Forces 5 (1926): 3751.

114. Kennedy, Argument Adverse, 7, 12.

115. Anderson, The American Census, 133.

116. Memo by Durand, quoted in Steuart, “The Conduct of the Fourteenth Census,” 574.

117. Ibid., 575.

118. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Measuring America, 15, 37.

119. Ibid., 28. Emphasis in original.

120. Ibid., 37.

121. Walker, Discussions in Economics and Statistics, 424.

122. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Special Reports, 176.

123. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Circular of Information Concerning Tentative Program of the Bureau of the Census. (Washington, DC, Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1914), 2, 5.

124. Perlmann, ‘Race or People”

125. Qtd. in Ibid.

126. Senator Dillingham's Immigration Commission is outside the purview of this article, but it of course contributed the famous and then-authoritative Dictionary of Races or Peoples to the mix (U.S. Immigration Commission, Dictionary of Races or Peoples [Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1969, orig. 1911]).

127. Qtd. in Perlmann, Race or People.

128. Jacobson, Matthew, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); King, Making Americans; Grant, Madison, The Passing of the Great Race; or, The Racial Basis of European History (New York: C. Scribner, 1916).

129. Haller, John, Outcasts from Evolution: Scientific Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859–1900 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995); Larson, Edward, Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Kevles, Daniel, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).

130. Seltzer and Anderson, Excluding Indians Not Taxed. As one census historian put it, “One does not have to be an expert to sense that these numbers do not describe real people” (Alterman, Counting People, 293).

131. U.S. Census Office, The Statistics of the Population of the United States (1872), xiii.

132. Public policies reflected this distinction. Every state with at least a 5 percent black population enacted laws banning marriage between blacks and whites (Kennedy, Randall, Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption [New York: Pantheon, 2003], 219), while state laws against Indian-white marriage were comparatively rare (Ingersoll, Thomas, To Intermix With Our White Brothers: Indian Mixed Bloods in the United States from Earliest Times to the Indian Removal [Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005], 241).

133. The census's inquiry into Indians' racial mixture coincided with increased attention in other realms of federal policy. The government “continued to discourage racial intermarriage on or near Indian reservations, for the sake of civilizing the Indians, … by encouraging mixed individuals to give up their tribal status and be separated from their tribes” (Ingersoll, To Intermix With Our White Brothers): 243–44.

134. U.S. Census Office, Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed in the United States (except Alaska) (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1894), 131.

135. Boas, Franz, “The Census of the North American Indians,” in The Federal Census: Critical Essays by Members of the American Economic Association, ed. American Economic Association, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1899), 51.

136. Katherine Moos, “Race Theory in American Ethnology: Roland Dixon and Alfred Kroeber, 1900–1930” (Senior thesis, Harvard University 1975).

137. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Measuring America, 56.

138. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Indian Population in the United States and Alaska, 1910 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1915), 35. Dixon was remembered for this contribution to anthropology. His obituary in the journal of the American Philosophical Society praised the 1910 special census as “the most complete and accurate enumeration of the Indian population by stocks and tribes,” and called his analysis “probably the most valuable work extant dealing with the vital statistics of racially mixed marriages” (Hooton, Earnest, “Roland Burrage Dixon,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 75 [1935]: 772).

139. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Indian Population 1930 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1937), 1, 70.

140. Gratton, Brian and Gutman, Myron, “Hispanics in the United States, 1850–1990: Estimates of Population Size and National Origin,” Historical Methods 33 (2000): 137–53; and Schor, “Mobilising for Pure Prestige?” provides similar data for 1910 and 1920.

141. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population, Volume II: General Report, Statistics by Subjects (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1933), 27. For discussions of closing the “front door” of European immigration while leaving open the “back door” of Mexican migration, see Zolberg, A Nation by Design; Ngai, Mae, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005); Montejano, David, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836–1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987).

142. U.S. House of Representatives, 70th Cong., 1st Sess. Hearings on A Bill to Provide for the Fifteenth and Subsequent Decennial Censuses, Pts. 1 and 2 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1928), part. 2, 301.

143. Qtd. in Schor, “Mobilising for Pure Prestige?”, fn. 6.

144. Ibid., 99.

145. Qtd. in Schor, “Changing Racial Categories,” 7.

146. Siegel, Jacob and Passel, Jeffrey, Coverage of the Hispanic Population of the United States in the 1970 Census: A Methodological Analysis (Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1979), 7.

147. Qtd. in Márquez, Benjamin, LULAC: The Evolution of a Mexican American Political Organization (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), 3233.

148. Fox, Cybelle, The Boundaries of Social Citizenship: Race, Immigration and the American Welfare State, 1900–1950 (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 2007).

149. Marian Smith, “Other Considerations at Work: The Question of Mexican Eligibility to U.S. Naturalization before 1940,” presented at Organization of American Historians, Memphis TN, 3 Apr. 2003; Ngai, Impossible Subjects; Hattam, Ethnic Shadows.

150. Qtd. in Schor, “Mobilising for Pure Prestige?,” 99–100.

151. Rolt-Wheeler, The Boy with the U.S. Census, Preface.

152. Alba, Richard and Denton, Nancy, “Old and New Landscapes of Diversity: The Residential Patterns of Immigrant Minorities,” in Not Just Black and White: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States, ed. Foner, Nancy and Fredrickson, George (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004); Kraly, Ellen and Hirschman, Charles, “Immigrants, Cities, and Opportunities: Some Historical Insights from Social Demography,” in The Immigration Experience in the United States: Policy Implications, ed. Powers, Mary and Macisco, John, Jr. (New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1994).

153. Authors' calculations from Sutch, Richard and Carter, Susan, eds. Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to the Present, Millennial Edition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), table Cf8–64; these figures do not include territories outside the continental United States.

154. Ibid., table Ac1–42.

155. Joseph Ferrie, “Internal Migration,” in Historical Statistics of the United States, 1:493.

156. Hoxie, Frederick, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880–1920 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2001); Snipp, American Indians.

157. Over 600,000 men died in the American Civil War, out of a population of 31,000,000. The same proportion of casualties (almost 2 percent) implies a mortality rate of well over 3,000,000 for the 1960 population of over 179,000,000.

158. Alternatively, if one considers relative rather than absolute increases in size, the United States increases in size from its current 3.7 million to over 8 million square miles.

159. Qtd. in Munroe, James Phinney, A Life of Francis Amasa Walker (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1923), 197–98.

160. However, see Magnuson, “Making of a Modern Census” on the constituency pressures that it did face.

161. Our thanks, here and elsewhere, to Kenneth Prewitt for giving us the census-eye view of material that we tend to approach from our vantage point as social scientists.

162. Steuart, “Conduct of the Fourteenth Census,” 572; Migration News, “Census, Welfare, California, New York City,” University of California, Davis, 22 Dec. 2004. Accessible at:

163. ESRI “Trends in the U.S. Multiracial Population from 1990–2000” (ESRI, 2005). Accessible at:

164. Reynolds Farley, “The Declining Multiple Race Population of the United States: The American Community Survey, 2000–2005,” presented at Population Association of America, New York City, 29–31 Mar. 2007.

165. Francis Lieber, 1836 Memorial to Congress. Qtd. in Magnuson, “Making of a Modern Census,” 25.

166. Eckler, The Bureau of the Census, 121.

167. Office of Management and Budget, Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity (Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President, OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, 1997).

168. Hispanicity returned to the national census in 1970, when a 5 percent sample was asked if their “origin or descent” were Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or Other Spanish. The full population was asked about “Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent” in 1980, with answer categories identifying three nationalities (one of which was “Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano”). In 1990, additional nationalities appeared as examples of “other Spanish/Hispanic.” In short, Hispanic ethnicity on recent censuses encompasses nationality, panethnicity, continent, political identity (“Chicano”), and a catch-all “other.”

169. Hochschild, Jennifer, “Multiple Racial Identifiers in the 2000 Census, and Then What?” in The New Race Question: How the Census Counts Multiracial Individuals, ed. Perlmann, Joel and Waters, Mary (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002), 340–53.

Our thanks to Traci Burch and Vesla Weaver for their help; this article grows out of a book project co-authored by them and Jennifer Hochschild. Thanks also to K. Miya Woolfalk and Ariel Huerta for their excellent research assistance, to Rodney Ross for assistance at the National Archives, and to Margo Anderson, Daniel Carpenter, Nancy Foner, David Hollinger, Kenneth Prewitt, Jeffrey Strickland, and an anonymous reviewer for their very helpful suggestions for improvement.

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Studies in American Political Development
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