restricted access The Family Factor: Congressmen, Turnover, and the Burden of Public Service in the Early American Republic

During the first decades of the new nation's existence, the decision to serve in Congress imposed immense personal sacrifices not only on those who were elected but also on the members' wives and children. During this era, a class of professional politicians had not yet emerged. In order to attend meetings of Congress, ordinary citizens had to leave their farms, families, homes, and businesses and live for long periods in distant capital cities. For a variety of reasons, most congressmen did not bring their loved ones with them to the seat of government. Without the emotional moorings of home, members often experienced their time in Congress as a kind of exile. Surrounded by hostile antagonists and intractable controversies, they did not have the solace of domestic life to cushion them against the blows of the political arena. Back home, wives were left to fend for themselves.