Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Brief Survey of the Laws Governing the Illinois State Census Enumeration

When evaluating Illinois state census records from 1845, 1855, and 1865, it helps to understand the laws which governed when and how the census was collected. Many of the early legislative references are available online, such as the Illinois Revised Statutes of 1845. So in addition to summarizing them here, the references provided will make it easier to track down and consult the original documents.

State Census Years

Prior to Illinois becoming the 21st state on 3 December 1818, its first constitution was adopted on 16 November 1818. In it, Article II, Section 31, called for the enumeration of the state's inhabitants in 1820 and every five years thereafter [1]. While this provision was in force, a census was conducted during the years: 1820, 1825, 1830, 1835, 1840, and 1845. Extant census records from these years are incomplete [2]. 

Following the state constitutional convention in 1847, a new constitution was adopted in 1848. In it, Article III, Section 8, called for the enumeration of its inhabitants in 1855 and every ten years thereafter [4]. This led to the collection of census data for 1855 and 1865. Extant census records for these years are mostly complete [3].

The adoption of the 1870 constitution, ended the administration of a state census. In its Article IV, Sections 6 and 7, the seats in the legislature were to be apportioned based upon the federal census population data [5].

The Illinois "Census Act"

The Revised Code of Laws of Illinois for 1829 [6] sets forth "An act to provide for the taking of the census, or enumeration of the inhabitants of the state." This act applies to the census years preceding 1845. The law was revised in the Revised Statutes of the State of Illinois for 1845 [7] which was approved 3 March 1845. This act applies to census years 1845, 1855, and 1865. Some minor changes were made in 1855 [8]. The "census act" of 1845 is divided into 12 sections, which are summarized here:

Section 1.
The enumeration will be taken in 1845 starting on the first day of July, and every five years thereafter. 

Section 2.
"The enumeration shall be taken by commissioners, to be appointed by the county commissioners' courts of the respective counties." The 1855 revision [8], states that for counties which adopt a township organization, the board of supervisors shall appoint the census commissioner.

Section 3.
An "unorganized county" shall be enumerated by the commissioner of the county to which it is attached. The enumeration data from an "unorganized county" shall be reported separately.

Section 4.
Each census commissioner before commencing work, shall file with the county commissioners' clerk, an oath affirming that they will uphold the provisions of this act and "make a just and perfect enumeration and description of all persons resident within the county."

According to the 1855 revision [8], a commissioner may appoint one or more deputies under him, who are also required to file the aforementioned oath. 

Section 5.
The census commissioner will begin enumeration on the first day of July of each census year. A tabular book shall be used to record the data collected. The kind of data to be collected is also specified here and includes those items in the column heads of the census records. 

Instructions also state that a separate column be used for counting "white male persons, between the ages of 18 and 45 years, subject to militia duty."

The 1855 revision [8], states that the data: "value of grain raised last year", is not to be collected.

Section 6.
This section emphasizes: "The said enumeration shall be made by an actual inquiry at each dwelling house, or from the head of each family, when the same can be conveniently done, or otherwise, from the best information that can be obtained, where there shall be no fixed place of residence, or the head of such family, or other person to be included in such enumeration, shall be absent from the county or State."

Section 7.
Each census commissioner shall transfer returns of the enumeration on or before the first day of October to the clerk of the circuit court for the county and to the office of the secretary of state. It is also required that a certified statement be made to the adjutant general of the state, of the number of persons subject to militia duty. 

The count of persons in each household are to be assigned to "classes" based on age and sex. On each page of the census tabulation, the totals in these classes should be summed at the foot of each column. 

Section 8.
A penalty of $300 will be levied against a census commissioner who fails to make proper returns, or who makes a false return to the clerk of the circuit court, the secretary of state, or the adjutant general, within the time limit specified by this act.

Section 9.
Persons whose usual place of abode on the first Monday in July of the census year shall be returned with the members of the family. In 1845, this date was 7 July; in 1855, this date was 2 July; and in 1865, it was 3 July. Persons who are temporarily absent from a household shall be included. Persons without a regular place of abode were also counted.

Section 10.
Any free person, over 16 years of age, whether head of the household or not, who knowingly gives false information to a census commissioner, is subject to a $20 fine.

Section 11.
The compensation of a census commissioner follows this schedule, $2.00/100 persons for the first 2000, $1.75/100 persons for the third 1000, $1.50/100 for the fourth 1000, $1.25/100 for the fifth 1000, and $1.00/100 for over and above 5000. 

Section 12.
The secretary of state receives and files all returns in his office. These returns are then passed along to the "speaker of the House of Representatives, on or before the second day of the next session after such enumeration is made." Similarly, the adjutant general files all returns to his office, and "shall immediately thereafter make out a statement of the whole number of such persons, and report the same to the secretary of war department of the United States."

Reference Notes:

[1] Constitution of the State of Illinois. November 16, 1818. Read and ordered to lie upon the table (Washington City: E. De Krafft, 1818), 9; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 25 February 2013).

[2] Norton, Margaret Cross, editor, Illinois State Census Returns 1810, 1818 (Springfield, Illinois: Illinois State Historical Library, 1935), xi-xii, xix-xx; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 25 February 2013).

[3] Ibid., xiii-xiv.

[4] "Constitution of the State of Illinois, 1848," Compilation of all the general laws concerning real estate and the title thereto, in the State of Illinois 1849  (Unknown Publisher, 1849), 63-106, particularly 66;  digital images, Illinois State Archives ( : accessed 27 February 2013).

[5] Illinois Constitutional Convention (1869-1870), The constitution of the state of Illinois as adopted in convention, May 13, 1870, and ratified by the people of the state July 2d, A.D. 1870 (Chicago:  The Western News Company, 1870), 6; digital images,  Internet Archive ( : accessed 26 February 2013).

[6] Revised Code of Laws, of Illinois, containing those of a general and permanent nature passed by the Sixth General Assembly, at their session held at Vandalia, commencing on the first Monday of December 1828; and those enacted previous thereto, and ordered by the said General Assembly to be re-published (Shawneetown: Alexander F. Grant & Co., 1829), 18-22;  digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 26 February 2013).

[7] Revised Statutes of the State of Illinois adopted by the General Assembly of said state, at its regular session, held in the years, A.D., 1844-'5 (Springfield: Walters & Weber, Public Printers, 1845), Chapter XIX, Census, 89-91;  digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 5 March 2013).

[8] Laws of the State of Illinois passed by the Nineteenth General Assembly convened January 1, 1855 (Springfield: Lanphier & Walker Printers, 1855), 151; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 26 February 2013).

Change Log:

5 Mar 2013 Added Revised Statutes of the State of Illinois of 1845.