Abstract: This article analyzes the construction and experience of masculinity in the correspondence of early national congressmen. Focusing on the years after the removal of the national capital to Washington, the article examines a number of married congressmen who usually served their terms separate from their wives and families. These men wrote home obsessively, in letters filled with pathos, vulnerability, and loneliness. Contrasting the bliss of life at home with the privations of political life, such correspondence anticipated antebellum distinctions between public and private and the middle-class cult of domesticity. These sentiments of male longing stood in marked contrast to Washington political society, in which women, as Catherine Allgor and others have argued, played a decisive public role. Lonely congressmen often criticized women in Washington society, while emphasizing the importance of the private realm and the love and affection men found at home. The tensions between these different models of gender relations point to the significance of marriage and romantic longing in the construction of early national manhood. By privileging marriage and the home over political life, congressmen defined male political power as a burden and elevated private domesticity over a civil society in which men and women mixed freely. They did all this, finally, in the language of vulnerability and need, rendering male power opaque, both in national politics and in the institution of marriage. In emphasizing their emotional dependence on their wives, congressmen sustained romantic and institutional relationships that perpetuated the political dependence of women.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
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