The Religious Census of 1851 was the child of Sir George Lewis, the under-secretary at the Home Office in 1850, who felt that discovery of information regarding religion would be useful. The questions were included in the census under the power of the secretary of state, Russell, to ask such questions as he saw fit. But the law officers doubted whether refusal to answer could be punished by the law, and as a result the questions on religious behaviour were voluntary. There were opponents of the scheme, notably Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford who felt that the danger of eliciting inaccurate information invalidated the census. The work of preparing and analysing the returns was entrusted to Horace Mann, whose inexhaustible patience served the census well. Failure to respond to the initial enquiry led to a second questionnaire, after which Mann estimated the likely reply. In total nearly a 1000 of the 14,000 Anglican parishes refused to make a return. Years later, when the figures had been disputed by all sides, Mann admitted that there had been errors and that the figures gave only a general picture of the religious life of the country.
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