Our Research Reveals Flaw in Methodology

When researchers cite the U.S. Census, they expect to feel confidence in their source.  However, in our research into the 1850’s, we were surprised to find that in the table on Per Capita Income of the United States for 1850 and 1860, the Bureau of the Census included slaves in the total population.  The dictionary definition of per capita is in two parts.  The first, “Per unit of population, per person income per capita” is applicable.  The second, “Equally to each individual” is not.  The slaves were not legal persons to the state or the owners.  They were property with a taxable value that could no more profit financially from their work than a mule.  The per capita earnings of the slave were zero.



When we computed a corrected table of the assessed per capita value on real estate and property for the 8th Census (1860) in the slaveholding states and put them in ranking order, an interesting pattern emerges.   [See OTP State Rank in Per Capita Wealth (excluding the slave as part of the population)].  Looking at the ranking, we see that the slave states vary as much as 400% above the national average of $384. 

These kind of figures of extraordinarily high per capita incomes in states with a lot of poor whites would have highlighted the fact that the United States was not as egalitarian as professed.  This would have been fodder for the Populist Movement that was afoot at the time the census table was compiled in the mid-1880’s.  Then nonrich whites and former slaves were being urged to come together and unite against a common enemy, the monied classes.   

In American Populism – A Social History (1877-1898) Robert McGrath writes about two grassroot farmers organizations as a sample of the concerns of the times.  “These two short-lived organizations, like scores and even hundreds of other community-based movements, were called into being by the transformation of American Capitalism amidst the economic and social trauma of the 1870’s….Participants in both organizations understood, if only dimly, that old rules and values were crumbling, and that powerful new economic institutions, buttressed by the state, threatened their independence….In another moment of  crisis for the new industrial and financial order a decade later, groups like these two scattered throughout the island communities of the American heartland would coalesce and grow into a grand crusade.”   

A correct ranking list by per capita wealth like the one shown here could have been used by the populist forces to confirm their fear of an existing economic aristocracy. DG

State Rank by Per Capita Assessed Value 

of Real Estate and Personal Property (1860)  


  (NOT including the slave population)

1. South Carolina $1,624

2.    Mississippi 1,436

3. Louisiana 1,158

4. Georgia 1,039

5. Florida     876

6. Alabama     819

7. Connecticut     742

8. Rhode Island     716

9. Texas     635

10. Massachusetts     631

11. Virginia     594

12. Kentucky     568

13. Arkansas     556

14. District of Columbia     547

15. North Carolina     536

16. Maryland     495

17. Tennessee     459

18. New Jersey     441

19. Ohio     410

20. New Hampshire     380

21. Washington     379

22. California     368

23. Oregon        363

24. Delaware     360

25. New York     358

26.  Indiana         304

27.  Iowa         304

28.  Vermont         269

29.  Nebraska         258

30.  Pennsylvania         247

31.  Maine         246

32.  Wisconsin         240

33.  Illinois         227

34.  Missouri         226

35.  New Mexico         223

36.  Michigan         218

37.  Kansas         210

38.  Minnesota         186

39.  Utah         103


     (Including the slave population)

1. Connecticut $742

2. Rhode Island   716

3. South Carolina   695

4. Mississippi   644

5. Massachusetts   631

6. Louisiana   616

7. Georgia   585

8. District of Columbia   547

9. Florida   491

10. Kentucky   457

11. Alabama   448

12. Texas   443

13. New Jersey   441

14. Maryland   432

15. Arkansas   414

16. Virginia 412

17. Ohio 410

18. New Hampshire 380

19. Washington 379

20. California 368

21. Oregon 363

22. New York 358

23. Delaware 354

24. Tennessee 345

25.    Indiana 304

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