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Director Biographies

Directors 1790 - 1810

The secretary of state was the nominal director of the first five censuses, responsible for supervision and compilation of each U.S. marshal's tabulation. In reality, these cabinet officers did very little actual directing. The authorizing legislation for most early censuses was very specific, and the marshals oversaw the actual enumeration process.

Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (1790 census): Jefferson, most famous as the third president of the United States and as the author of the Declaration of Independence, also served as George Washington's first secretary of state. As the nominal director of the 1790 census, Jefferson certified the combined local results reported by each marshal. He also shared President Washington's concern that the first census had significantly undercounted the population, perhaps by several hundred thousand residents.

Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia, then part of Goochland County, in 1743. He attended the College of William and Mary, graduating in two years and joining the Virginia bar shortly after. Jefferson provided, with his Declaration of Independence, the theoretical underpinnings of the American Revolution. Before his tour as secretary of state, he also served as a state legislator, governor of Virginia and as minister to France. After his time at the State Department, Jefferson was elected vice president of the United States in 1796. In 1800, he was elected president, serving two terms in office. After his presidency, Jefferson devoted himself to founding and leading the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 at his Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Virginia.

John Marshall John Marshall (1800 census): Marshall served as secretary of state for less than a year at the end of John Adam's administration. In January 1801, he was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, although he continued to serve as Adam's secretary of state until the end of the administration on March 4 of that year. Marshall's short tenure as secretary of state meant that while he oversaw and collected local results from the 1800 census, his successor James Madison actually combined and certified the results.

John Marshall was born in 1755 in Fauquier County, Virginia. He served as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, leaving the military as the war wound down in order to practice law. He went on to serve as a state legislator and later as a special envoy to France. During this mission to France, Marshall became entangled in the famous XYZ Affair; a diplomatic spat that almost led to war between France and the United States. Marshall went on to serve briefly in the House of Representatives before being appointed secretary of state. His most famous position was as chief justice of the United States. In this capacity he expanded and solidified the powers of the federal judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. Marshall served as chief justice until his death in July 1835.

Robert Smith Robert Smith (1810 census): Smith was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1757. During the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Army. After the war, he attended Princeton University and went on to join the Maryland bar. While practicing law, he served as a presidential elector, a state senator, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, and a member of the Baltimore city council.

Thomas Jefferson appointed Smith as secretary of the Navy in 1801. He intended to resign that post in 1805, when he was appointed as attorney general, but was unable to do so when his proposed replacement was unable to accept an appointment as secretary of the Navy due to poor health. Impressively, Smith served as both cabinet officials simultaneously until John Breckinridge became attorney general later in 1805. Smith returned to serving as secretary of the Navy, a position he held for the rest of the Jefferson administration. President Madison appointed Smith secretary of state in 1809 and thus overseer of the 1810 census.

Smith did not last long as secretary of state, however. He and Madison had fundamentally different ideas of foreign policy. In fact, each man went so far as to publish a written attack against the other before Madison forced Smith to resign in 1811. After his short tour at the State Department, Smith became the president of the American Bible Society. In 1818, he became the founding president of the Maryland Agriculture Society. Robert Smith died in Baltimore on November 26, 1842.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: March 31, 2014