In 1890 only about 34 percent of Americans were members of a formal church. By 1989 the share of those who belonged was 60 percent.
By Robert J. Samuelson
Jan. 23, 2006 issue - Let us now praise the newest edition of "Historical Statistics of the United States," whose five volumes and 1,781 tables are about to hit libraries and universities all over the country. We study history for many reasons: (1) it's interesting; (2) it helps explain who we are and how we got this way, and (3) with luck, we may learn from the past. But the discovery of history is always an exhausting project—part adventure, part ordeal—because the past is shrouded in its own secrets of time, place, belief, motivation and personality. The new edition of "Historical Statistics," the first since 1975 and 11 years in gestation, makes the search a bit easier.
The other way that numbers inform the past is to raise questions about it. We stumble across an intriguing statistic and ask: why was that? Since World War II, no president has outdone Dwight Eisenhower in successfully vetoing congressional legislation. He vetoed 181 bills and was overridden only twice. By contrast, Ronald Reagan vetoed 78 and was overridden nine times; Bill Clinton's numbers were 36 and two. What explains Eisenhower's record? (The veto champion was Franklin Roosevelt, with 635 and nine overridden. The current president hasn't vetoed any bill; if he never does, he'd be the first president to do so since James Garfield in 1881.)
If you peruse "Historical Statistics," you'll encounter many revealing numbers: