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Census Act

Census Act, 1800. In 18th-cent. Britain there was much uncertainty about the size of the population and whether it was diminishing in relation to that of France. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Austria, followed by Holland and Spain, instituted censuses in the course of the century. In 1753 Thomas Potter moved in Parliament for an annual census. His opponents retorted that it would give valuable information to enemies, complained of the affront to British liberty, and forecast widespread resistance. The bill was lost in the Lords. Arthur Young proposed a census in a pamphlet of 1771 and an inconclusive debate about the trend rumbled on. The 1800 bill, which carried the day, was introduced by Charles Abbot, a future Speaker, at the suggestion of John Rickman. There was no opposition and the first census of Great Britain was carried out on 10 March 1801. The population of England and Wales was returned as 9.168 million and Scotland as 1.599 million, revealing an upwards trend. Contemporaries were struck by the size of London which, at 1 million, was as big as all the other towns together. Though simple and unsophisticated by later standards, the census was a milestone in the provision of statistical data and has subsequently been held at ten-year intervals.

J. A. Cannon

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