Bans on assembly, movement, and badly needed economic activity? Citizens of the early Republic went through all these and much more. Churches shut their doors. People were routinely cooped up in their homes — contrary to some recent speculation, there was no general practice of applying restrictions only to the sick. Not long after the adoption of the new Constitution, the nation’s capital of Philadelphia was struck with a deadly outbreak of yellow fever; persons fleeing the city in the direction of places like Baltimore were turned back at gunpoint, while Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza, after surviving the illness, had to undergo quarantine at the behest of authorities in Albany, N.Y. whence they had fled.
In Massachusetts, to take another example, a 1797 law provided that a person “coming from any place out of this state, where the small pox or other malignant distemper is prevailing, into any town within this state,” shall be obliged to obey the commands of selectmen to depart the state “in such manner, and by such road as the said selectmen shall direct.” The measure made it unlawful for any resident to entertain in his house such a person ordered to leave, once warned of the circumstance.