The Three Main Western Revolutions and Their Censuses

Gunnar Thorvaldsen, Elena Glavatskaya


This article considers national censuses in the US, France, and Russia based on new principles and held after their respective revolutions. The authors aim to find out to what extent the authorities succeeded in following enumeration procedures based on international regulations. It is demonstrated that a census is a dialectical process involving the state and the population, requiring reciprocal trust. France had no experience of organising censuses with the exception of those in the country’s American colonies. The gentry wanted to keep control over their lands and would not share information about their population with the central authorities. In postrevolutionary France, the census held during the Jacobin terror was not entirely successful, with the state bureaucracy not being strong enough to organise a coherent census and different revolutionary committees taking uncoordinated measures to register the population. The US, however, had had a number of censuses organised by the British prior to the War of Independence. The first census in the United States was held in 1790 in compliance with the Constitution. As a result, the US has held censuses at decadal intervals ever since, but it faced a number of problems for a considerable amount of time, especially concerning the registering of racial minorities. Russia was at an advantage in that respect since it held the first all-Russian census in 1897 in addition to local censuses and census-like tax revisions. The first all-Soviet census organised after the Revolution and Civil War in 1926 was successful, especially among the ethnic minorities in the polar parts of the country. However, the 1937 census became part of repression measures, with detrimental consequences for the census and census takers alike. The US and Soviet censuses census organised after their respective revolutions were successful: in the former, the census created enthusiasm because it was regarded as an instrument to make the new democracy work, while in the Soviet Union of the 1920s, the census was perceived as a prerequisite for the social and economic modernisation of the new state.


Revolutions; population censuses; Russian Revolution; 1790 census of the US; French censuses; 1926 census of the Soviet Union


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