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The Census Act of 1840 (signed into law on March 3, 1839 and amended by an act of February 26, 1840) authorized establishing a centralized census office during each enumeration. Congress left the design of the questionnaire to the discretion of the secretary of state, but specified that inquiries be made of each household. Subjects among the inquiries were to include "the pursuits, industry, education, and resources of the country." New population inquiries included questions about school attendance, literacy, and vocation.
The administration of the sixth census was very similar to that of the fifth. Enumeration began on June 1, 1840. Marshals were to receive two copies of the census receipts from enumerators by November 1, 1840, one of which was to be sent to the secretary of state by December 1, 1840.