The implementing language for the country’s first census in 1790 made some interesting distinctions among “people.”
That first census counted everyone, but divided people into men, women, Indians, “coloured,” young and old, slave and free. Gender and race mattered because at that time, the right to vote was most often restricted to free propertied males.
For congressional apportionment, though, everybody counted, at least a little. Each slave was weighted as only three-fifths of a person (census.gov).
Oddly, 240 years later, things haven’t changed all that much for our retro Republicans. Many Republicans still believe that some people are more “people” than others.
For congressional apportionment today, many Republicans want the census to count only citizens. For them, even three-fifths of a person is sometimes too much. Some say “voting citizens,” only, which in 2019 would generously include many women, Native Americans and descendants of former slaves. But since the “citizenship” question Republicans want to add to the 2020 census is designed to discourage brown people from responding, they’ve put the Founders’ “colour” distinction back in the mix (apnews.com).
In telling ways, we’re not that far from 1790. In 2019, many Republicans would limit the meaning of personhood to those who vote and are most likely white. And since their party supports tax policies that continue to widen the gap between the rich and the rest, in practice they are simultaneously resurrecting the property-ownership qualification to be an American citizen with a real voice.
So, who really counts in today’s United States? White or brown people? Rich or poor? City or country folk? Your neighbor? Or possibly you?
It depends on who’s doing the counting.
In their undemocratic vision of America, Republicans believe that only the people likely to support them should count or be counted.