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.

History of Congress and the Capitol

The Senate 1789-1815

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James Madison, by Charles Willson...
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James Madison, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783

James Madison, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

James Madison, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783

James Madison, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

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