Congressional legacies

One in 10 members of Congress has relatives who also served

By Laurie Bennett

August 31, 2009 at 11:11am

The death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy last week has rekindled discussion of political dynasties.

Yet when it comes to congressional legacies - multiple family members holding seats in the House and Senate - the Kennedy clan doesn’t come close to the Frelinghuysens.

The Frelinghuysen hold on Capitol Hill extends from the Continental Congress to the current 111th Congress.

U.S. Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen of New Jersey is the great-great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Frelinghuysen, who fought in the Revolution, was a member of the Continental Congress and served in the Senate in the 1790s.

Frederick Frelinghuysen

Frederick T. Frelinghuysen

Joseph S. Frelinghuysen

Rodney Frelinghuysen

In between, four other Frelinghuysen men held congressional seats. (Unlike the wave-making Kennedys, the Frelinghuysens seem to have caused barely a ripple, remaining relatively unknown outside their home state. Peter Frelinghuysen, Rodney’s father, did achieve some notoriety in 1968 by casting the lone vote against a measure requiring members to disclose their finances.)

Muckety studied the connections of every member of the House and Senate going back to the first Congress. At least 12 percent had family ties. (We say at least because there are doubtless relationships that have gone unreported or that we’ve overlooked.)

The data indicates that most members do not ride into office on relatives’ coattails. But for a substantial number, holding political office is a family business.

Common wisdom would say that the most prominent recent example, besides the Kennedys, is the Bush family. However, the Bushes often had their start in gubernatorial posts rather than the House or Senate.

Nevertheless, having a president in the family can provide a big boost to succeeding generations seeking congressional office. The tradition goes back all the way to our second president, John Adams. His son, John Quincy, served in both the House and Senate before reaching the White House. John Quincy’s son and brother-in-law also were congressmen.

Although neither of the Roosevelt presidents served in Congress, their offspring did. FDR’s sons, James and Franklin Jr., were House members. Teddy Roosevelt’s nephew Robert was a senator. His son-in-law, Nicholas Longworth, was a congressman.

Of the current senators and representatives, at least 51 have family members who have also served. The 111th Congress includes the first sister act - Reps. Loretta and Linda Sanchez of California. Cousins Mark and Thomas Udall are the sons of congressmen. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the daughter of former congressman Thomas J. D’Alesandro Jr., who was also mayor of Baltimore.

There may be a political gene that has yet to be mapped. Former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson II, the grandson of a congressman and vice president and the father of a senator, once admitted to “a bad case of hereditary politics.”

History provides many striking examples of the affliction:

Howard H. Baker Jr. and Nancy Kassebaum Baker - Baker, who was Senate majority leader and chief of staff to Ronald Reagan, is the former son-in-law of the late Sen. Everett M. Dirksen. Both his father and stepmother were members of the House. Baker is now married to former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, who is the daughter of Alf Landon.

John Breckinridge - The various congressional involvements of relatives of Breckinridge, who was a congressman, senator and attorney general, are almost too numerous to count. The extended family reaches to Henry Clay.

The Claibornes - Thomas Claiborne served in the third Congress. Descendants were members of both houses. Former Rep. Lindy Boggs is a great-great grandniece of John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne, who was Thomas’s grandnephew.

The Cabots, Davises and Lodges - George Cabot was a senator in the 18th century. His great-great-great grandson, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., also served in the Senate before becoming ambassador to Vietnam, Germany and the Vatican.

The Muhlenbergs - Six family members served in the House. John Muhlenberg also was a senator.

Roger Sherman - A Continental Congress participant, signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of both houses, Sherman may have been the granddaddy of legacies. Ten family members - two sons-in-law, four grandsons, two great-grandsons, a great-great grandson and a great-great nephew, also served in Congress.

Muckety has compiled lists of current and former members of Congress by relationship:

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