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Samuel Alleyne Otis, by Gilbert Stuart, 1811–1813

Samuel Alleyne Otis, by Gilbert Stuart, 1811–1813

Secretary of the Senate, 1789 to 1814.

Gift of the Honorable and Mrs. Robert H. Thayer, Image © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Samuel Alleyne Otis

Setting Up Shop

The Senate began work on April 6, 1789, when a majority of senators arrived, establishing a quorum, or the minimum number required to conduct business. Since they met behind closed doors, the senators needed a doorkeeper to guard their privacy. They chose James Mathers for this job on April 7 (later expanding his position to Doorkeeper and Sergeant at Arms).

The next day, Samuel Otis became Secretary of the Senate, responsible for keeping a journal, buying supplies, managing payrolls, and paying bills. Within three weeks, senators also elected their first chaplain: Samuel Provoost, the Episcopal bishop of New York. Choosing these officers laid the foundation for today’s extensive Senate organization.