Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The United States in 1790

Why am I writing about the United States of 226 years ago?  Because that time shaped our Constitution and the first ten Amendments added to it - the Bill of Rights.
   On 8 January 1790, George Washington gave the first ever "State of the Union" address to Congress.
   Benjamin Franklin died on 17 April of 1790.
   The first Census of the United States was conducted on August first, and a few days thereafter.  It was an attempt to count every person living within the 13 states that made up America.  Alexander Hamilton was in charge of the enumeration, and he used 650 head counters.  The number of people residing in the United States, both free and slave and/or bond servant, was 3,929,214.  Ninety percent of the heads of households stated that their occupation was a farmer.  The average population per square mile was 4.5 persons.  And the center of population for the United States was 23 miles east of Baltimore, Maryland.
   The top ten cities by population were:
1    New York City, New York        33,131
2    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania       28,522
3    Boston, Massachusetts              18,320
4    Charleston, South Carolina       16,359
5    Baltimore, Maryland                 13,503
6    North Liberties township, PA     9,913
7    Salem, Massachusetts                 7,921
8    Newport, Rhode Island               6,716
9    Providence, Rhode Island           6,380
10  Marblehead, Massachusetts        5,661
   In 1790, the states covered land from the east coast to about 255 miles westward, and parts of the frontier crossed the Appalachian Mountains during that year.
   In 1790, James Watt's improved version of the steam engine offered a powerful, reliable power source that could be located almost anywhere; it helped speed up the Industrial Revolution.
   In 1790, American ships carried 40.5 percent of the value of goods carried in our nation's foreign trade.  Having the government pass new shipping laws and incentives in 1789, by 1807 US ships were carrying 92 percent of the goods in foreign trade.
   In 1790, the most up-to-date and reliable weapon was what is known as 'the Kentucky rifle.'  It was a black powder, muzzle loading rifle that shot .60 caliber rounds.  An expert hunter could reload and fire two to three times per minute. (The Girandoni Air Rifle was invented in 1779.  It had a magazine of 20 to 22, and used .46 caliber rounds.  This was the rifle used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but very few private citizens owned one.)
    The other fairly widely used ordinance was the six-pound cannon.  These cannons could accurately fire at a target 1500 yards away, and could be fired once every two minutes, with a well-trained gun crew.  A variety of projectiles could be used - a solid cannon ball, an exploding cannon ball, grape shot, nails, junk metal, etc.  Many of these small cannons were owned by towns, local militia, and a few private individuals.  They were relatively easy to position to defend various properties.
   Washington, the District of Columbia, was designated as the capital of the United States in 1791.
   The Bill of Rights was voted into law by the U. S. Congress on 15 December 1791.
According to various and sundry studies and compilations of information, 50 to 80 percent of households owned one working gun - whether a Brown Bess musket, a rifle, or a handgun - a single shot pistol.  Americans were pushing west and south, and used the guns as personal protection of themselves and their families, and to kill game to eat.  Since the United States was newly formed, most able-bodied men belonged to their local or state militia.  The militias often provided guns for their members, to be certain that each man had a gun that would actually fire.

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