America's top 10 political families

Yes, the Kennedys, Roosevelts, and Rockefellers are on the list. But don't forget the Frelinghuysens and Bayards, too. 

Political families in America are a dime a dozen.

Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess literally wrote the book on them, “America’s Political Dynasties.” In 2009, in an op-ed for The Washington Post, Mr. Hess came up with a point system for ranking the nation’s political dynasties since 1789. The Kennedys came in first, followed by the Roosevelts and the Rockefellers.

Here’s the methodology: President/chief justice: 10 points. Vice president/speaker of the House: 4 points. Senator or governor: 3 points. Representative: 2 points. Cabinet member: 1 point.

The points are multiplied by the number of terms a family member serves in each position. Each family member gets an extra point, as does each generation. To qualify as a “dynasty,” a family has to have at least three generations in politics and the members must be blood relatives. So the Clintons don’t even qualify. But just based on both Clintons’ political careers so far, they get 45 points – not far from the lowest point total in the top 10 (63 points). Here are the rankings, updated to reflect the current standings:

1.  Kennedy  102 points: 1 president, 3 senators, 5 representatives, 1 cabinet member.

The Kennedys need no introduction. But it’s worth pointing out that the fourth generation is on the map. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D) of Massachusetts took office in 2013.

2.  Roosevelt – 92 points: 2 presidents, 1 vice president, 2 governors, 4 representatives.

Hess notes that if former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had agreed to accept the New York Democratic nomination for Senate, she might have put the Roosevelts in first place.

3.  Rockefeller – 84 points: 1 vice president, 3 governors, 2 senators, 2 representatives.

The last of this wealthy family’s politicians – Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia – retired in January. He was the dynasty’s only Democrat.  

4.  Harrison – 76 points: 2 presidents, 2 governors, 3 senators, 5 representatives.

“No dynasty sought public office with more tenacity than the Harrisons,” Hess writes in the op-ed. “The result was that even though they were men of limited talent, two of their number became presidents.”

5.  Frelinghuysen – 72 points: 4 senators, 2 representatives, 1 cabinet member.

The Frelinghuysens have been a New Jersey political fixture for six generations. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) of New Jersey just started his 11th term in Congress.

6.  Adams – 68 points: 2 presidents, 1 vice president, 1 governor, 1 senator, 2 representatives, 2 cabinet members.

After losing reelection to the presidency in 1828, John Quincy Adams ran for the US House from Massachusetts and served eight terms. He is the only ex-president to serve in the House.

7.  Bush – 67 points: 2 presidents, 1 vice president, 2 governors, 1 senator, 1 representative.

Jeb Bush and his son George P., newly elected Texas land commissioner, both have potential to add points to the family total.

8.  Breckinridge – 65 points: 1 vice president, 2 senators, 6 representatives, 1 cabinet member.

“The Kentucky Breckinridges were never in repose,” writes Hess. “They felt strongly about everything and were often in disagreement with each other, including over the Civil War.”

9.  Taft 64 points: 1 president, 1 chief justice, 1 governor, 3 senators, 2 representatives, 3 cabinet members.

President William Howard Taft finished his career as chief justice of the United States. The family served in public office for five generations.

10.  Bayard – 63 points: 1 governor, 6 senators, 1 representative, 1 cabinet member.

Six generations of Bayards represented Delaware in the US Senate, from 1789 until 1929.

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