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Posted on: February 21, 2020

The 2020 Census in Stafford: Historical and Modern Significance


In the coming month, Stafford County residents will receive information via the mail asking them to complete the 2020 Census. County officials are emphasizing the importance of responding because the results of the Census provide critical data those lawmakers, business owners, teachers and many others use to deliver daily services, products, and support for the community. The Census determines the destination of billions of dollars in federal funding that goes to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other resources. Over the next few weeks, Stafford will be releasing information weekly to help residents better understand why everyone must be counted.

There is no better place to start than at the beginning. The United States Constitution first mentioned the Census: Article 1, Section 2, mandating that the country conduct a count of its population once every 10 years. The 2020 Census will be the 24th time the country has counted its citizens.

The first U.S. Census was conducted in 1790 – more than 100 years after Stafford County was established. Back then, the original 13 states were counted along with the district of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory – Tennessee. Stafford County and Virginia have been a part of the Census since the beginning. Today, the count includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories – Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In 1790, around 650 U.S. marshals and assistants scoured the country on horseback and on foot to record answers on forms made of parchment and animal skins. Over the years, there was a very personal element to the Census, with census takers being hired to knock on doors to complete the count. Today, for the first time, households can now respond online. Of course, they can still respond by phone and mail.

Virginia’s ties to the Census are strong. One of its favorite sons, Thomas Jefferson, then the Secretary of State, led the efforts. Today, there is a nonpartisan federal government department, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Steven Dillingham heads that. 

One of the critical aspects of the Census is that it determines the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives and is used to draw congressional and states legislative districts. In 1790, the results of the Census caused the numbers of the House to increase from 65 to 105. In 1929, the Apportionment Act set the number at 435 permanently. However, the numbers for each state can vary depending on the results of the Census.

One of the interesting facts on the Census website,, is that in 1790, the combined population of the country’s five largest cities (New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, South Carolina and Baltimore) was 109,826. The site compares that to the attendance capacity of the largest college football stadium in the United States – Michigan Stadium, which comes in at 107,601. Our country was very different in those days. Colonial Americans could probably not imagine a gathering of that magnitude in one place.

And finally, the 1790 Census counted 3,929,214 Americans. While results have not been calculated for the 2020 Census yet, the Census Bureau estimated the population of the United States to be 329.45 million in August of 2019.

As you can see, it has been historically significant to be counted. The power states have in Congress is directly proportional to each citizen being counted. As well, the Census is not an optional activity for local, state and federal government, and the Constitution mandates it.

Coming up will be articles with more details about who should be counted, how to be counted, and precisely what happens with all those numbers. Above all, it is crucial to be counted. The 2020 Census – it’s about us all.

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