My dissertation examines the relationship between family networks and the developing institutions of federal and state government in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War. Focusing specifically on several prominent families centered in North Carolina and Virginia, but whose networks extended throughout the country and stretched across the Atlantic, the dissertation shows that the work related to the presence and performance of emotion—what I refer to as affective labor—was inseparable from the work that drove economic ventures and political fortunes. Such an approach reveals that what we often imagine as private and personal had profound implications for public policy and economic development. Women played a central role in business and politics through affective labor, which solidified the familial bonds necessary for credit. Men both benefited from such labor and engaged in it. The implications were particularly apparent in the realm of internal improvements, where well-connected men used the networks created through affective labor to access state government and shape public policy around their own interests. Casting their families’ prospects as the embodiment of the public good, men in elite families also incorporated the institutions and power of state and federal government into their networks in ways that ultimately exacerbated sectional conflict. These familial metaphors and relationships continued to guide elite families as they struggled to negotiate the sectional conflicts that ultimately erupted in war.