The nationwide population census, conducted every 10 years, originated with the founding fathers and the framework they established to create the government of the United States.
Between May 25 and September 17, 1787, state delegates gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation - the nations governing document since 1777. The topic of a nationwide census arose during debate about how to handle the debt incurred from the Revolutionary War.
A census provided a way to allocate the debt among the states fairly. Additionally, the founding fathers wanted to establish a truly representative government that linked state population totals to the number of members in the House of Representatives.
By counting people for both taxes and representation, they believed the census would be both accurate and fair. While states might inflate their population numbers to increase their representation in Congress, doing so also would increase the states tax burden.