1870 United States Census

The United States Census of 1870 was the ninth United States Census. Conducted by the Census Bureau in June 1870, the 1870 Census was the first census to provide detailed information on the black population, only years after the culmination of the Civil War when slaves were granted freedom. The population was said to be 38,555,983 individuals, a 22.62% increase since 1860. The 1870 Census' population estimate is controversial, as many believed it underestimated the true population numbers, especially in New York and Pennsylvania.[1]

Census Act of 1850

Under the Census Act of 1850, two new structural changes during the 1870 Census occurred: marshals had to return the completed population questionnaire to the Census Office in September and penalties for refusing to reply to enumerator questions were extended to encompass every question on the questionnaires.


The commonly past-used slave questionnaires were redesigned to reflect the American society after the Civil War. The five schedules for the 1870 Census were the following: General Population, Mortality, Agriculture, Products of Industry, and Social Statistics.

The general population saw a 22.62% increase to 38,555,983 individuals in 1870. Charges of an undercount, however, have been brought against Francis Amasa Walker, the Superintendent of the Census.

Mortality rates in 1870, in general, decreased as a fraction of the total population by 0.03% from 1860 and by 0.11% from 1850. The lower death rates indicate that the standard of living increased, due to some exogenous factor, over the period of twenty years from 1850 to 1870.

In terms of products of industry, total U.S. wealth increases by 17.3% from 1860 to 1870, to reach an assessed wealth of $14,178,986,732. The four main state contributors to this wealth were New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, in that order. Most of the wealth was concentrated in the developed Northeast region, as newer states like Wyoming were beginning to develop their young economies.

The 1870 Census was the first of its kind to record the nativity of the American population. This social statistic indicates which areas were more highly composed of immigrants than native-born Americans. New York City had the most foreign-born individuals, with 419,094 foreigners, who comprised 44.5% of the city's total population. Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco also had a great population of foreigners that made up a significant fraction of their total populations. Therefore, a great ethnic and cultural change was witnessed from 1860 to 1870, as part of the population growth was due to immigrants moving in and a shuffling of residents across state borders.

Census questions

The 1870 census collected the following information

Full documentation for the 1870 population census, including census forms and enumerator instructions, is available from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.

Population undercounting controversy

Although Francis Walker, the Superintendent of the 1870 Census, defended the quality of the census, arguing that standardized, clear, and statistical approaches and practices were carried out across all regions of America, the public at the time was disappointed in the national growth rate and suspected underenumeration. With especially bitter complaints coming from New York and Philadelphia claiming up to a third of the population was not counted, the President made the rare move to order a recount in those areas. While it was thought a large fraction of the population was not counted for being indoors in the wintry cold, newer estimates resulted in only a 2.5% increase in Philadelphia's population and a 2% increase in New York's.

This controversy of the 1870 undercount resurfaced in 1890, when the national growth rate between 1880 and 1890 was discovered to be much lower than it was between 1870 and 1880. Critics then asserted that the 1870 population must have been underenumerated by over 1.2 million people to account for the discrepancy between growth rates; it was presumed that the growth rate in 1880 had to be exaggerated because of the 1870 undercount. Despite the fact that modern investigations have yet to quantify the exact effect of the undercount, most modern social scientists do not believe the undercount was as severe as 1890 investigators assumed. Today most analyzers compare the 1870 undercount to the non-response rates seen in most modern census data.

City rankings

Rank City State Population[2] Region (2016)[3]
01 New York New York 942,292 Northeast
02 Philadelphia Pennsylvania 674,022 Northeast
03 Brooklyn New York 396,099 Northeast
04 St. Louis Missouri 310,864 Midwest
05 Chicago Illinois 298,977 Midwest
06 Baltimore Maryland 267,354 South
07 Boston Massachusetts 250,526 Northeast
08 Cincinnati Ohio 216,239 Midwest
09 New Orleans Louisiana 191,418 South
10 San Francisco California 149,473 West
11 Buffalo New York 117,714 Northeast
12 Washington District of Columbia 109,199 South
13 Newark New Jersey 105,059 Northeast
14 Louisville Kentucky 100,753 South
15 Cleveland Ohio 92,829 Midwest
16 Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 86,076 Northeast
17 Jersey City New Jersey 82,546 Northeast
18 Detroit Michigan 79,577 Midwest
19 Milwaukee Wisconsin 71,440 Midwest
20 Albany New York 69,422 Northeast
21 Providence Rhode Island 68,904 Northeast
22 Rochester New York 62,386 Northeast
23 Allegheny Pennsylvania 53,180 Northeast
24 Richmond Virginia 51,038 South
25 New Haven Connecticut 50,840 Northeast
26 Charleston South Carolina 48,956 South
27 Indianapolis Indiana 48,244 Midwest
28 Troy New York 46,465 Northeast
29 Syracuse New York 43,051 Northeast
30 Worcester Massachusetts 41,105 Northeast
31 Lowell Massachusetts 40,928 Northeast
32 Memphis Tennessee 40,226 South
33 Cambridge Massachusetts 39,634 Northeast
34 Hartford Connecticut 37,180 Northeast
35 Scranton Pennsylvania 35,092 Northeast
36 Reading Pennsylvania 33,930 Northeast
37 Paterson New Jersey 33,579 Northeast
38 Kansas City Missouri 32,260 Midwest
39 Mobile Alabama 32,034 South
40 Toledo Ohio 31,584 Midwest
41 Portland Maine 31,413 Northeast
42 Columbus Ohio 31,274 Midwest
43 Wilmington Delaware 30,841 South
44 Dayton Ohio 30,473 Midwest
45 Lawrence Massachusetts 28,921 Northeast
46 Utica New York 28,804 Northeast
47 Charlestown Massachusetts 28,323 Northeast
48 Savannah Georgia 28,235 South
49 Lynn Massachusetts 28,233 Northeast
50 Fall River Massachusetts 26,766 Northeast
51 Springfield Massachusetts 26,703 Northeast
52 Nashville Tennessee 25,865 South
53 Covington Kentucky 24,505 South
54 Salem Massachusetts 24,117 Northeast
55 Quincy Illinois 24,052 Midwest
56 Manchester New Hampshire 23,536 Northeast
57 Harrisburg Pennsylvania 23,104 Northeast
58 Trenton New Jersey 22,874 Northeast
59 Peoria Illinois 22,849 Midwest
60 Evansville Indiana 21,830 Midwest
61 Atlanta Georgia 21,789 South
62 New Bedford Massachusetts 21,320 Northeast
63 Oswego New York 20,910 Northeast
64 Elizabeth New Jersey 20,832 Northeast
65 North Providence Rhode Island 20,495 Northeast
66 Hoboken New Jersey 20,297 Northeast
67 Lancaster Pennsylvania 20,233 Northeast
68 Poughkeepsie New York 20,080 Northeast
69 Camden New Jersey 20,045 Northeast
70 Davenport Iowa 20,038 Midwest
71 Saint Paul Minnesota 20,030 Midwest
72 Erie Pennsylvania 19,646 Northeast
73 St. Joseph Missouri 19,565 Midwest
74 Wheeling West Virginia 19,280 South
75 Norfolk Virginia 19,229 South
76 Bridgeport Connecticut 18,969 Northeast
77 Petersburg Virginia 18,950 South
78 Taunton Massachusetts 18,629 Northeast
79 Chelsea Massachusetts 18,547 Northeast
80 Dubuque Iowa 18,434 Midwest
81 Bangor Maine 18,289 Northeast
82 Leavenworth Kansas 17,873 Midwest
83 Fort Wayne Indiana 17,718 Midwest
84 Springfield Illinois 17,364 Midwest
85 Auburn New York 17,225 Northeast
86 Newburgh New York 17,014 Northeast
87 Norwich Connecticut 16,653 Northeast
88 Grand Rapids Michigan 16,507 Midwest
89 Sacramento California 16,283 West
90 Terre Haute Indiana 16,103 Midwest
91 Omaha Nebraska 16,083 Midwest
92 Williamsport Pennsylvania 16,030 Northeast
93 Elmira New York 15,863 Northeast
94 New Albany Indiana 15,396 Midwest
95 Augusta Georgia 15,389 South
95 Gloucester Massachusetts 15,389 Northeast
97 Cohoes New York 15,357 Northeast
98 Newport Kentucky 15,087 South
99 New Brunswick New Jersey 15,058 Northeast
100 Burlington Iowa 14,930 Midwest


  1. Munroe, James Phinney (1923) A Life of Francis Amasa Walker, Holt, p.111 Conditions for the work were therefore so adverse that the new superintendent (Walker), with characteristic frankness, repudiated in many instances the results of the Census, denouncing them as false or misleading and pointing out the plain reasons. p.113 When the appointments of enumerators were made in 1870 the entire lot was taken from the Republican party, and most of those in the South were negroes. Some of the negroes could not read or write, and the enumeration of the Southern population was done very badly. My judgement was that the census of 1870 erred as to the colored population between 350,000 and 400,000
  2. Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990, U.S. Census Bureau, 1998
  3. "Regions and Divisions". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
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