By David Tucker

The decennial U.S. Census — or Population and Housing Census as it is also known — endeavors to count every individual living in the United States and the five U.S. territories, and will take place again this year.

The quiz below, from the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ohio, provides an opportunity for you to test your knowledge of the history and purpose of the U.S. Census.

1. In what Article and Section of the U.S. Constitution is the mandate to count each state’s population every 10 years?

The U.S. Constitution empowers the Congress to carry out the census in "such manner as they shall by Law direct" (Article I, Section 2). The Founders of our fledgling nation 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. (

2. In what year was the first census taken?

The United States Census of 1790 was the first census of the whole United States. It recorded the population of the United States as of Census Day, August 2, 1790, as mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and applicable laws. (Wikipedia)

3. What was the approximate total number of persons counted in the first census?

In the first census, the population of the United States was enumerated to be 3,929,214. (Wikipedia)

4. What was the approximate total number of persons counted in the 2010 census?

The 2010 Census enumerated 308.7 million people in the United States, a 9.7 percent increase from 281.4 million in Census 2000. Of the total population in 2010, 300.8 million lived in 116.7 million households for an average of 2.58 people per household. (

5. In what year did the U.S. Census Bureau become an official government agency?

The Census Bureau became a permanent agency within the Department of Commerce and Labor following passage of An Act to Provide for a Permanent Census Office in 1902. (

6. The Census Bureau is part of which Cabinet-level department?

The Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and its director is appointed by the President of the United States. (Wikipedia)

7. Census counters begin work in this state in January of each census year, three months before counting in other states begins?

Census enumerators start knocking on doors in Alaska in January to count people where they live before the spring thaw and before residents leave their villages to fish and hunt. (

8. New York City, Philadelphia and Boston were the three largest cities according to the 1790 Census. Which of the following cities was the fourth largest?

Top 10: Population of the 24 Urban Places in 1790 — New York city, NY*: 33,131; Philadelphia city, PA*: 28,522; Boston town, MA*: 18,320; Charleston city, SC: 16,359; Baltimore town, MD: 13,503; Northern Liberties township, PA*: 9,913; Salem town, MA: 7,921; Newport town, RI: 6,716; Providence town, RI*: 6,380; Marblehead town, MA: 5,661; Southwark district, PA*: 5,661

9. In addition to the decennial population census required by the Constitution, the U.S. government also conducts other censuses and surveys. Which of the following does the government count periodically?

10. For almost a century beginning with the first census, which of the following agencies was in charge of counting the country’s inhabitants?

Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 census to the marshals of the U.S. judicial districts under an act which, with minor modifications and extensions, governed census taking through 1840. (

Answers:  1-C, 2-A, 3-D, 4-C, 5-B, 6-C, 7-A, 8-B, 9-D, 10-A

About the Author 

David Tucker is senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University and general editor of Ashbrook’s “Core Documents Collection” curricula resources. He wrote this for

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