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The late 18th century saw increasing discussion about the question of population and its effects on society. The economist Thomas Malthus took an extreme viewpoint, arguing that Britain had a falling populace and population growth itself would outstrip food supplies and lead to starvation and famine. The civil servant and statistician John Rickman, and politicians such as Charles Abbot and William Wilberforce, didn’t agree with these fatalistic views. Rickman suggested the introduction of a population census which would provide the Government with information on societal patterns, and which would also be a useful aid to formulate military recruitment in the continuing war with France. Parliament passed the Population Act in December 1800, and the first United Kingdom census was conducted the following year, continuing the trend for acquiring accurate demographic information that had developed in Europe and America in the previous century.
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