Population and Demographic Predictions for the Americas, From 1823


– 21 July 2015 –

Barzillai “19th Century” Bozarth:

19th-century-barzillaiI recently stumbled upon the following footnote from the 1832 edition of the Encyclopaedia Americana, Volume 12.

The article, itself quoted from the 1823 Encyclopedia Britannica, predicts the future population, as well as the racial composition, of North and South America in the succeeding two centuries. Naturally the predictions have proven to be incorrect, and in the case of the races, woefully incorrect. The way in which the author fails, however, is fascinating.

For instance, the author predicted that Portuguese and Spanish would merge into a single language and that the entire Mestizo population would be absorbed into their neighboring, and more fertile, white populations. He follows this with some rather fanciful predictions about the role of the Americas in the world of the twenty-first century.

The following curious speculations concerning the future progress of the population of the American continent are deserving of attention.  They are taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica, now publishing in Edinburgh, article America.

“Humboldt gives the following estimate of the entire population of [North and South] America in 1823:


If we assume the annual ratio of increase to be two per cent. Per annum upon the whole, the entire population in 1830 will be about 40,000,000, distributed as follows:—


The black population of America forms three groups, the centres of which are in the southern parts of the U. States, in the West India islands, and in the eastern parts of Brazil:


The number of blacks in all other parts of America probably does not amount to 100,000.

One of the most interesting questions connected with America, relates to the increase and probable amount, at a future period, of its inhabitants.  It was the astonishing progress of the U. States that first clearly unfolded the principles on which the multiplication of human beings depends.  We know with certainty that a prosperous community, possessing abundance of unoccupied land, will double its numbers in 25 [23] years, without any aid from emigration; and as the scale ascends in a geometrical ratio, a short time necessarily produces a wonderful change.

It is observed, however, that the whites, possessing the advantages of superior industry, order, and forethought, naturally increase faster than the other classes.  In the U. States, this part of the population increases at the rate of three percent [3 ⅓] per annum; and when the Spanish American republics have settled down into a tranquil state, there is no doubt that their white inhabitants will multiply at the same rate.

The Mexican Indians, and probably the Peruvians, have also been increasing, but slowly, while nearly all the independent tribes have been mouldering away.

The black population does not maintain its numbers in the West Indies: it is rather increasing in Brazil, and in the U. States it grows rapidly.

Setting aside the West Indies, where the negroes do not increase, and attending to the continent merely, let us take the number of each class as it stands at present, and see what the result will be in a course of years, assuming the rate of increase to be three per cent for the whites, one and a half per cent for the negroes, and one per cent for the civilized Indians.  If the whole population is 40,000,000 at present, the continental whites will be about 16,000,000, the Indians about 9,500,000, the negroes 5,000,000, and the mixed race 7,000,000.

In Spanish America, it may be assumed the the mixed race, consisting almost entirely of mestizoes, will merge into the white, and increase nearly in the same ratio.  We shall therefore add five sevenths of the former to the latter, which will raise the whites to 21,000,000.


As the difficulty of providing for the growing annual increment of inhabitants must increase with the magnitude of the population, let us assume that, at the end of a century, the rate of increase fall to two per cent.  The period of doubling will then be thirty-six years.


Thus, in two centuries, the whites now in America would multiply to a mass of people three times as great as are present on the whole surface of the globe.  The new continent, though less than half the size of the old, contains at lest an equal quantity of useful soil, and much more than an equal amount of productive power.  Of the 31,000,000 of square miles which compose the three eastern continents, we cannot find that the productive soil constitutes so much as one third, and of that third a part is poor…

…It follows that, if the natural resources of America were fully developed, it would afford sustenance to 3,600,000,000 of inhabitants, a number five times as great as the entire mass of human beings existing at present upon the globe.

And, what is more surprising, there is every probability that this prodigious population will be in existence within three, or, at most, four centuries.  The imagination is lost in contemplating a state of things which will make so great and rapid a change in the condition of the world.  We almost fancy that it is a dream; and yet the result is based on principles quite as certain as those which govern the conduct of men in their ordinary pursuits.

There are many elements of disorder now operating in Spanish America, but these are merely the dregs left by the old Spanish despotism; and the Anglo-American republic is a pole-star to guide the people in their course towards freedom and prosperity.

Nearly all social improvements sprung from the reciprocal influence of condensed numbers and diffused intelligence.  What, then, will be the state of society in America two centuries hence, when a thousand or two thousand millions of civilized men are crowded into a space comparatively so narrow, and when this immense mass of human beings speak only two languages!  We take for granted that the Portuguese will merge into the Spanish; and it is clear to us that the Russian will never obtain a footing in the new world.

Such a state of things may be said to undo the curse of Babel, and restore the great mass of mankind to their pristine facility of intercourse; for the languages spoken by the communities of Europe and Asia will be as unimportant then, in the general scale of the globe, as the dialects of Hungary, Finland and Bohemia are in Europe at this day.

History shows that wealth, power, science, literature, all follow in the train of numbers, general intelligence and freedom.  The same causes which transferred the sceptre of civilization from the banks of the Euphrates and the Nile to Western Europe, must, in the course of no long period, carry it from the latter to the plains of the Mississippi and the Amazon.

Society, after all, is in its infancy; the habitable world, when its productive powers are regarded, may be said hitherto to have been an untenanted waste.

If any one suspects us of drawing on our fancy, we would request him to examine thoroughly the condition and past progress of the North American republic.  Let him look at its amazing strides in wealth, intelligence and social improvements; at its indestructible liberty; and above all, at the prodigious growth of its population; and let him answer the question to himself, what power can stop the tide of civilization which is pouring from this single source over an unoccupied world.”

Ah, the naive hope that we possessed in the nineteenth century for the enlightened course of humanity in the centuries to follow! Some, at the present time, would still agree. As for myself and my lost contemporaries, very few of us would be pleased to see how events have unfolded.

Lieber, Francis, and E. Wigglesworth, eds. “United States (Statistics).” In Encyclopaedia Americana: A Popular Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature, History, Politics and Biography, Brought down to the Present Time; Including a Copious Collection of Original Articles in American Biography, 431–32. Philadelphia: Carey & Lea, 1832.

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  1. Reblogged this on Windows into History (Reblogs and News) and commented:
    Suggested reading – an interesting prediction of the future from 1823. Of course, that kind of thing nearly always proves to be amusingly wide of the mark! Reblogged on Windows into History.


  2. Reblogged this on Brittius.


  3. Liberals; always wishing for distinctions to be erased.


    • Interesting that you noticed that. The editor of Encyclopaedia Americana in 1832 was Francis Lieber, a German-immigrant professor and opponent of the Prussian monarchy who immigrated to the US in 1827. He eventually moved to South Carolina to teach at the University of Charleston, where he wrote several abolitionist articles and pamphlets, especially during the Civil War. He was on the whole a good and honorable man as far as I can tell, and today he would probably fit right in with the average Republican, but I could tell while doing research for an ongoing project that Lieber was a leftist for his day, particularly in his views of marriage (which he said is a remnant of previous wife-buying cultures while he denounced the marriage of his day as a form of ownership of the woman. Most people today, of course, accept without thinking the total legal and social equality of a man and woman within their marriage, but this was not the norm for Lieber’s day).



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