Primary tabs


Progress of Population in Minnesota.


By the territorial census of 1849, the population of the Territory of Minnesota, embracing what is now Dakota, was 4,780. Of this number, the returns show 723 for settlements now outside of the State, leaving the population of the State as now bounded, 4,057. The United States census of Minnesota Territory for 1850, showed a population of 6,077. Subtracting therefore the number given the previous year for Dakota, not otherwise ascertainable, the result for the State, as now bounded, would be 5,354.

The following table, then, exhibits the growth of population in Minnesota for ten years, within the limits of the present State:

Year. Authority. Number.
1849 Territorial census 4,057
1850 United States census 5,354
1857 Territorial census 150,037
1860 United States census 172,022


The following table exhibits the increase of the vote at the general elections for Territorial and State officers, and taking into account the degree of excitement and other circumstances attending each election, is valuable as showing the ratio of votes to population, and affording a basis for future calculations:

  No. of votes. No. persons to one vote.
August, 1849 682 5.94
September, 1851 1,208  
October, 1853 2,845  
October, 1855 7,944  
October, 1857 35,340 4.24
October, 1859 38,917  
November, 1860 34,743 4.95


The table of population shows a ratio of increase of 56 per cent yearly, from 1849 to 1857, and of less than 5 per cent yearly, from 1857 to 1860. The table of votes shows an increase of 60 per cent yearly, from 1851 to 1857; of 112 per cent yearly, from 1855 to 1857, and a slight decrease from 1857 to 1860.

The swell and subsidence of the wave of population at the different periods above indicated, mark three well defined phases in the progress of the population of our State.

1. In the years immediately following 1850, the gold discoveries of California diverted immigration from the northwest, and moreover, until 1853 and 1854, the whole of that portion of Minnesota, west of the Mississippi River, was in the occupancy of the Sioux Indians. For these reasons population did not set rapidly towards Minnesota in 1854.

2. Accordingly, the table of votes shows that it was between 1854 and 1857 that the chief immigration to Minnesota took place. Over 100,000


were added to the population of Minnesota between the fall of 1855 and 1857, nearly trebling in two years. This extraordinary influx of population, with its accompanying exaggeration of property values, and wild riot of financial adventure, constitute this period one of the most remarkable in the history of the age, and is not likely to be repeated in the experience of our State.

3. The effect upon immigration of the violent reaction which followed, is shown in the halting pace of population between 1857 and 1860, when the increase was only 22,000 in number, or about 7,000 yearly, of which over 6,600 yearly, or about 19,828 for the three years, were the natural increase by birth, reducing the immigration for the period to about 2,000.

The census was taken at a period when the country was just recovering from the exhausting financial calamities of 1857. In the overflowing harvests of that year a new climacteric of recuperated commercial life was reached — a new period of healthy and vigorous growth was entered on, and now, notwithstanding the gloom of civil war which overhangs the nation, emigration has been pouring in with a new impulse.

The following table shows the absolute yearly and relative increase in the several periods above noted:

    Increase for the period. Annual increase. Ration of annual increase
1849 4,057      
1850 5,350 1,293 1,293 31.6
1855, estimated 50,000 44,650 8,930 166.9
1857 150,037 100,037 50,018 100.0
1860 172,022 21,985 7,328 14.9


The increase of population in Minnesota in the first decade of its settlement, has been far greater relatively than that of any other State of the Union, in the corresponding period of growth.

A tabular comparison would occupy too much space, but it will suffice to say that of the Western States starting about the year 1800 or 1810, with about the same population as that of Minnesota in 1850 — Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois — were each from 20 to 28 years in reaching the population attained by Wisconsin or Iowa in about 15, and by Minnesota, in 10 years. This fact strikingly illustrates the influence of improved modes of communication in promoting emigration to the West.

The following table will show the movement of population in eight States of the northwest in the last decade, as compared with Minnesota:

Population 1850.
Population 1860.
Actual Increase
Increase per cent.
Minnesota 5,330 172,022 166,692 3,127
Iowa 192,214 674,948 482,734 251
Wisconsin 305,391 775,873 470,472 154
Illinois 851,470 1,711,753 860,283 101
Michigan 397,654 749112 251,458 88
Indiana 988,416 1,350,479 362,063 36
Ohio 1,980,329 2,339,599 359,270 18
Kansas   107,110 107,110  
Total 4,720,804 7,880,896 3,180,082  


The increase in all the free States was 5,450,916, so that the increase in the northwestern States was 58 per cent, or nearly three-fifths of the whole free growth. Minnesota contributed about five per cent, or one-twentieth of the northwestern increase, about three per cent, or one-thirty-third of the whole free growth, and about two per cent of the entire national gain.

The whole northwest gained in the ratio of 67 per cent over 1850, Minnesota gained 31 fold or 3,127 per cent.

Minnesota has thus grown in the last ten years more than twelve times as rapidly as any of the northwestern States, and nearly fifty times as rapidly as the average growth of all of them.

This is not, however, a fair comparison, as the geometrical ratios of increase are of course greater in the first stages of growth. It will be a better illustration to say that Minnesota shows a more rapid growth in the last ten years, than the most rapidly growing States in the period of their most rapid growth, as the following comparison will show:

  Rates of increase per cent.
Minnesota, from 1850 to 1860 3,127
Wisconsin, from 1840 to 1850 891
Iowa, from 1840 to 1850 347
Michigan, from 1830 to 1840 575
Ohio, from 1800 to 1810 408
Indiana, from 1810 to 1820 510

Minnesota, by this showing, has grown 3˝ times as fast in the last ten years as the most rapidly growing State of the Union, in the most rapid period of its growth; six times as fast as the average of the fastest States, and one hundred times as fast as the average increase of the whole Union.


It is interesting to trace the respective shares which the collateral agencies of birth and immigration have contributed to our population. The representative population of the State, as it stood on June 1st, 1860, was derived from the following general sources:

Number of persons born in Minnesota 32,246
Number of persons born out of the State, but in the United States 81,489
Number of persons born in foreign countries 87,502
Whole number of immigrants 138,991
Number not classified 785
Total representative population 172,022

Increment of Births. — The number of persons born in Minnesota, then, is nearly one-fifth, or 18.8 per cent of our whole population.

Of this number there were born before the census of 1850 1,334
Born in the ten years ending June 1, 1860 30,912

The births in the last decade being 18.5 per cent of the whole increase of the decade.

The bearings of this fact will not be fully appreciated without recollecting that five-sevenths of our population has been acquired since


1855 that is in the last half of the decade. From the vote and partial census of 1855, I have the means of estimating the population of that year at about 50,000, leaving 122,022 as the increase of five succeeding years.

During the semi-decade ending with 1855, the deficiency of females was notoriously much greater than since then; so much so, indeed, as to have been felt as a serious social inconvenience.

The aggravated operation of this cause in California in 1850 reduced the annual proportion of births to 0.29 per cent or less than three to every one thousand of the population. The average annual ratio for the United States is 2.75 per cent. In Minnesota, for the first half of the last census decade, the annual ratio could not have exceeded 2.5 per cent, except in 1850, when the half-breed and Indian women of the country replenished the easy domestic circles of our trading and trapping population in a ratio of 2.77 per cent.

Applying a ratio of 2.5 per cent to the progressive scale of population for the period, as estimated from the current vote, we have the following as the increments of births;

  Population. No. of births.
1851 7,000 175
1852 10,000 250
1853 18,000 450
1854 30,000 750
1855 50,000 1,250
Total number of births for the period   2,875

During the five remaining years of the decade, the births were therefore 28,037, which, assuming a cumulative increase in the annual ratio of births, as society matured, and as the disparity between the sexes decreased, were probably distributed upon the ascending series of the scale of population, nearly as follows:

  Population. Ratio per cent of births. No. of births.
1856 100,000 2.95 2,956
1857 150,037 3.50 5,251
1858 152,000 4.00 6,080
1859 161,250 4.10 6,611
1860 172,022 4.15 7,137
Total number of births for the period 28,037    


This table, whose correctness in the main cannot be disputed, shows a degree of local fecundity, if the numerical ratios of births can be so called, as unparalleled, so far as I know, in the recorded statistics of population, as has been the rapid concentration of the social elements necessary to produce the result.

This will better appear by comparison with the most prolific States of the Union in 1850. In Minnesota, the ratio of births per cent of population in 1860, was about 4.15 per cent. In Wisconsin, in 1850, it was 3.41; in Iowa, 3.17; in Indiana, 3.27; in Missouri, 3.30; and in polygamous Utah, 3.80, while the average of all the States was 2.75. Minnesota is therefore more than 50 per cent more prolific than the average of the Union, and more than twice as productive as New Hampshire and Vermont.



The reasons of this extraordinary fecundity are obvious. It is only the young who emigrate. Our adult population is almost universally in the prime of youthful vigor — at an age when women are most fruitful and in such circumstances as remove the social obstacles to matrimony arising from pride or poverty, while the isolation of a sparsely settled agricultural community adds intensity to all the natural motives which lead man to seek the companionship of the other sex. I have not yet tabulated the ages of our population, but a partial examination shows that over nine-tenths are under the age of 40 years, and four-fifths under the age of 30 years, while over two-fifths, or about 70,000, are at the most fruitful period of life, between 20 and 40.

This large predominance of the youthful classes in our population is however, defeated of its full effect upon the natal roll from the great numerical disparity of the sexes.

The whole number of males is 92,588
The whole number of females 78,649
Excess of males 13,939

These masculine supernumeraries belong to the adult class, and are chiefly resident in our larger towns. Subtracting this neutral element from the productive part of our population, and supposing the equated remainder of the sexes married, we will have about 56,000 married persons under forty years of age, or 28,000 families, being 7,818 less the number of families — persons living in separate tenements — enumerated in the census. The remainder are either married persons over forty years of age, or unmarried persons occupying dwellings. We have, then, a little more than one birth annually to every four productive families, and one birth to five of the whole number of families. If our 13,882 bachelors were auspiciously mated, the number of births would be increased in the natural course of events about 3,720 per year, making the total annual increment of population by births, 10,825 — or about 6⅓ per cent of the population — which without any accessions from abroad would give us a population by 1870 of 317,000.


Let us now compare the native with the immigrant increase:
The whole classified population of the State on June 1, 1860. 171,237
The whole number of persons born in the State was= 32,248
The whole number of immigrants being 138,991

The immigrants being 81.17 per cent of the whole population. But a part of the population, 5,354 in all, belongs to the period prior to the census of 1850.

The whole classified increase of population between 1850 and 1860 was 165,883
Increase by birth 30,912
Increase by immigration 134,971

The native increase being 18.5 per cent of the whole increase of the decade, and the immigrant increase being 81.4 per cent of the whole.


I have already indicated the disastrous year 1857 as an epochal crisis in the history of the movement of population in Minnesota. The influence of the commercial collapse of that year is graphically portrayed in its effects upon the growth of population, and especially in the almost complete suspension, for a time of immigration.

For the three years before 1857, the increase of population was about 100,000
For the three succeeding years it was 21,985

But while nearly the whole growth of population before 1857 was derived from immigration, after that year nearly the whole increase was derived from births.

The accessions from these two sources were distributed as follows in the two periods of the decade before and after the census of 1857:

Increase by births from 1850 to 1857 11,116
Increase by immigration 134,567
Whole increase of the period 145,683

Increase by births from 1857 to 1860 19,828
Increase by immigration 2,157
Whole increase for the period 21,985

Observe the complete inversion of proportions:

  By birth. By immigration.
First period — per cent of whole increase 7.62 90.19
Second period — per cent of whole increase 92.38 9.81


Of course, the small number above given as the increase by immigration since 1857, which is simply the complement of the born increase, does not, by any means, represent the whole immigration of the period. It represents merely the gain by immigration, after deducting the immense loss of population which we suffered in consequence of the business disasters of 1857, when the horde of camp followers in our army of colonization were swept from our borders like chaff before the whirlwind — the speculators, gamblers, and cognate classes, who overran the country in emulous chase of bubbles of their own blowing.

The census affords collateral evidence of this loss of population, in the empty tenements, numbering 4,242, which are scattered over the State, which represent, according to the present ratios of occupancy, a lost population of 19,000 souls. Our losses and gains of population for three years, from1857 to 1860, may be thus stated:

Births 19,828
Immigration, about. 22,000
Total accession 41,828
Loss by emigration and deaths 19,842
Total gain by births and immigration 21,985


The causes which drove the large number above named from the State had exhausted their force in 1859. Until that year, so entirely had factious schemes of speculation absorbed the attention of our people, to the neglect of agricultural industry, that they did not even produce food enough for home consumption.

The explosion of values in the financial crash of 1857 — the bursting of all the fine schemes of town-building and land speculation of that time with its terrible recoil of notes and mortgages, left the large majority of our population without any resource. A part of them turned their attention to farming, the rest sought relief from the pressure of the times in emigration.

The effects of this general return to agricultural and other industrial pursuits begun to be witnessed in the fall of 1859, when, for the first time production exceeded consumption, and a tide of exports began to flow from our borders which has been rapidly widening and deepening ever since, and which has given our State a degree of solid prosperity never attained before. We may reasonably conclude that since 1859, with its well fulfilled promise of better days, there has been no loss of population by emigration from the State; while, on the other hand, the immigration to the State has been constantly increasing.

Estimated Population, Jan. 1, 1862. — Since the spring of 1860, when the census was taken, the influx of emigration has been very considerable. Though I have no data by which to form a judgment except the opinions of steamboat men, and other correspondents at the principal ferries and towns on the Wisconsin and Iowa border — it is certainly below the mark to affirm that 20,000 immigrants have come into the State during the summers of 1860 and 1861. If, now, we may assume the number of births to have continued in the ratio of 1860, or 4.15 per cent, we shall obtain the following result of the accessions of population from June, 1860, to January 1, 1862:

Population, 1860 172,022
Increase by births 10,861
Increase by immigration 20,000
Total estimated population, Jan. 1, 1862 202,883


It has been shown in a preceding page that Minnesota has increased in the last ten years 3,127 per cent, or six times as fast as the most rapidly growing States of the Union, in the decennial period of their most rapid growth. This of course affords no rule for estimating its future growth, except as indicative of its relative position in the scaled of progress. An examination of the decennial movement of population in the Northwestern States, establishes the general fact, that each successive State in the geographical march of population westward has grown more rapidly than its predecessors.

This fact recurs with such uniformity in each case as to claim something of the character of a fixed law. The following examples, taking the States in their geographical order from east to west, will show their relative progress for periods of ten years — starting from points of equal population:


Population of Ohio     1800 — 45,365 1810 — 230,760
Population of Michigan     1833 — 45,000 1843 — 262,267

Michigan 1810 — 4,672 1820 — 8,896 1830 — 31,639
Indiana 1800 — 4,875 1810 — 24,250 1820 — 147,178

Indiana 1820 — 147,178 1830 — 343,031 1840 — 685,866
Illinois 1830 — 157,445 1840 — 467,783 1850 — 851,470

Illinois 1810 — 12,282 1820 — 55,211 1830 — 157,445
Wisconsin 1836 — 11,686 1846 — 155,277 1856 — 600,000


The population of Wisconsin in 1830 was 3,452; in 1836, 11,686. Iowa in 1836 had 10,531. Those States must therefore have had a population in 1832 of about 5,500 each, or about the same as Minnesota in 1850. They compare then as to progress in population with Minnesota as follows:

  Year. Population. Year. Population Rate of increase in ten years.
Wisconsin 1832 5,500 1842 46,678 748 per cent.
Iowa 1832 5,500 1841 62,516 1036 per cent
Minnesota 1850 5,354 1860 172,000 3127 per cent

So that Minnesota has grown from three to four times as rapidly as those States in the corresponding period of growth. To state this in another form, Iowa, moving at the same pace as Illinois, starting with a population of 192,000 in 1850, should have had in 1860 but 547,200, or 185 per cent increase; but she had in fact 675,000, or 251 per cent increase. Wisconsin, starting in 1850 with a population of 305,000, if she had kept even step with Illinois, should have in 1860 but 640,000, or 116 percent increase. She had really 776,000, or 154 per cent increase. Again, Minnesota, growing at the same rate as Wisconsin and Iowa, should have had but 56,000 inhabitants, or an increase of 944 per cent. But she had in fact 172,000, or 3217 per cent.

This constant increase in the ratios of frontier growth rests upon no accidental or temporary conditions. But secondary to these general princes, the causes of the cumulative ratios of frontier growth may be summed up briefly as follows:

1. The rapid increase of the whole population, and its cumulative pressure upon the means of subsistence in the older States, compelling migration to the newer.

2. The rapid increase in the population of the older Western States makes each of these States, so to speak, a reservoir of emigration to the new States upon their borders. The sources of supply are thus brought nearer and nearer to the frontier every decade, while the volume of emigration is expanding.

3. Improved means of communication. During the early epochs of


western settlement, Illinois was three or four weeks from New York, it is now but three days. Minnesota, which could then scarcely have been reached in six weeks, is now but four days from the Atlantic seaboard.

These are permanent causes. Foreign emigration might be directed to entirely new fields, without greatly diminishing their effect. Looking to the operation of these causes alone, what will be the future growth of Minnesota? Taking as a basis of calculation the neighboring States of Iowa and Wisconsin, the position and characteristics of which are both combined in Minnesota, we have compared their growth with that of Minnesota for the decade corresponding, as to the numerical starting points, with that of Minnesota between 1850 and 1860. We have already shown that Minnesota, in the first decade of her growth, increased in population 3217 per cent, against an average of 892 per cent for the corresponding period of the growth of Wisconsin and Iowa. Starting in 1832 with the population of Minnesota in 1850, Wisconsin was fifteen years and Iowa seventeen in acquiring the population (172,000) which Minnesota gained in ten. Their growth after that period was as follows —

          Ratio of increase.
Wisconsin 1847 — 180,000 1857 — 650,000 261
Iowa 1850 — 192,000 1860 — 675,000 251

So that moving upon the same plane of progression as Iowa and Wisconsin, Minnesota, starting upon her second decade with a population of 172,000, should have in 1870 a population of 610,000, or 261 percent increase; and in 1880, moving only at the speed of Illinois, she would have 1,300,000, or a little over 100 per cent increase. This increase, at least, is assured to us by the pressure of causes permanent in their character, and unceasing in their operation. But much more than this is assured to us by the law of a constantly increasing rapidity of frontier growth which our citations have demonstrated.

In our first decade, in accordance with this law, our population increased more than three times as fast as that of Wisconsin and Iowa for the corresponding period of their growth, dating from the same point in population. If we should allow for the next decade an addition of only 50 per cent over their ratios of growth, it would give us in 1870 a population of 845,000; and if we add 50 per cent only to the ratio of Illinois for the next decade, we shall have a population in 1880 of over 2,112,000 — results which we may calculate upon with reasonable certainty.

But to the agencies already noticed, as accelerating the increase of population in the new States, must be added another element in the true growth of Minnesota, which must come into-full and effective operation before the close of the present decade, and that is the restricted supply of fertile lands for the formation of new settlements in the West and South, and the consequent inevitable determination of the whole westward movement of population in the direction of Minnesota and northwestern valleys of whose outlets she holds the keys. Thus imperative physical conditions co-operate with the established laws and tendencies of frontier growth to promise an augmentation of population in Minnesota in the next twenty years, far greater than has been attained in an equal period by any State of the Union.