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Eyewitness to History 1831-1895

Isaac Bassett walked the Senate halls for 64 years. Appointed a page in 1831 by Daniel Webster, Bassett served later as messenger and then as Assistant Doorkeeper before his death in 1895. In his later years, reporters and visitors often sought out the old man, eager to hear stories of the Senate's "golden era."

Bassett is famed for turning back the clock—literally—to let senators pass last-minute laws. His true legacy, however, is on paper. Planning to write a memoir, Bassett kept careful notes, clipped news items, and wrote short vignettes of people he'd met and events he'd seen. Bassett died before finishing it. Fortunately, the manuscript survives, a rare firsthand account of the 19th-century Senate.

  • Isaac Bassett, by Freeman Thorp, 1876

    The Senate honored long-serving Assistant Doorkeeper Isaac Bassett with this portrait. The painting was a testimonial of the senators' personal regard and appreciation. When he learned of the gift, Bassett proclaimed, "I must confess that I never was so embarrassed in my life before."

    Collection of the U.S. Senate

  • Assistant Doorkeeper Isaac Bassett became famous for turning back the hands of the clock in the Senate Chamber to add precious moments at the end of a busy session.

    Assistant Doorkeeper Isaac Bassett became famous for turning back the hands of the clock in the Senate Chamber to add precious moments at the end of a busy session.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

    Isaac Bassett’s Ebony Walking Stick, 1862

    On December 25, 1862, Assistant Doorkeeper Bassett's fellow employees presented him with this walking stick.

    Collection of the U.S. Senate

    Isaac Bassett’s Memoir, ca. 1880

    These pages from Bassett's manuscript recount how he "stopped the clock" in the Senate Chamber so that legislative business could continue after the time for that session of Congress should have expired.

    Collection of the U.S. Senate

    Isaac Bassett’s Silver Snuffbox, 1881

    The Senate presented this Tiffany snuffbox to Assistant Doorkeeper Bassett in his 50th year of service "in recognition of his personal worth and official fidelity."

    Collection of the U.S. Senate