Bassett Becomes a Page

"Taking the Vote on the Impeachment of President Johnson, Senate Chamber, Washington, D.C., May 6th, 1868.—Senator Ross, of Kansas, Voting 'Not Guilty.'" (detail)
Unidentified Artist, after James E. Taylor
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
June 6, 1868

"The Pages as Mock Senators."
Unknown Artist
Among the Law-Makers


A Little History of the Pages of the Senate—While I Was Once a Page

My father was in charge of the Senate Chamber and he often brought me over with him and permitted me to run around on the floor while the Senate was in session. Daniel Webster [. . .] on one of those occasions [asked] if I would like to be a page. I told him I would. He called the sergeant at arms up and told him that he wanted him to appoint his little boy a page {as he called me}. The sergeant told him that he would see about it and spoke to several of the senators. A good number of them said that they thought they could get along with one, but Mr. Webster told the sergeant that there ought to be one on each side of the Senate, one on the Democratic and one on the Whig. That was the session of 1830, the sergeant at arms told Mr. Webster that I could remain on the floor and the commencement of the next session he would appoint me—and on the 5 day of December 1831, I was appointed a page. There being only one page then. When there was new states admitted to the Union they increased the number of pages. Now in 1888 there are 15 pages. How different the pages of this time differ from the pages in olden times. They were told what their duty was and did it, but the pages now are told but do it not. Some have turned out well and some bad. Some have been genl., some senators, some merchants, some doctors, lawyers and farmers. I must confess that since I have in part been in charge of them that they have with very few exceptions bad behavior, and give me a great deal of trouble. To mention a few of their capers, I have seen them while the Senate was in session playing marbles behind the vice president’s chair, sitting on the platform tossing peanuts up in the air and catching them in their mouth, putting pins on the carpet where they sat so they would stick in them when they sat down, and fighting. Often had to take them by the collar and lead them out of the Chamber. Have come to the conclusion that as a whole they are very bad boys. [21E30A-21E30C]

A Page

There was great opposition among the senators to having more than one page there being only one, his name was Grafton Hanson—Mr. Webster insisted on having two, and I was accordingly appointed on the 5 of December 1831—so that they might have one page on each side of the Senate—I served in that capacity for seven years then was appointed a messenger and served as such until 1861. Then elected assistant doorkeeper. I have witness[ed] all that has transpired in the Senate Chamber up to the present time. [1A4]

Editor's Note:

Isaac Bassett’s father, Simeon, first came to Washington, DC as a stonemason to work on the reconstruction of the Capitol after its destruction by British troops in 1814. He later served as a messenger for the Senate, working in the Senate Chamber, where young Isaac met Daniel Webster and embarked on his career as a Senate page. As a page, Isaac’s duties included delivering correspondence and legislative material within the Capitol, preparing the Chamber for Senate sessions, carrying bills and amendments to the presiding officer’s desk, and attending to the needs of the senators. Bassett wrote this remembrance in 1888, while serving as assistant doorkeeper, and having the responsibility of supervising the then 15 Senate pages.

People, Places, & Things:

  • Daniel Webster (Adams, Anti-Jacksonian, Whig - MA) U.S. senator 1827-1841 and 1845-1850.
  • Sergeant at Arms - This position was originally that of doorkeeper, and was established in 1789. The doorkeeper tended the Senate Chamber door and enforced order in the galleries. Over the years, the title and duties grew; the title is now "sergeant at arms and doorkeeper." The sergeant at arms serves the Senate as its chief law enforcement officer, protocol officer, and executive officer.
  • Each side of the Senate - The custom of dividing Senate seating by party goes back to the creation of political parties in the United States, but has not always been rigidly followed. In the Old Senate Chamber, an equal number of desks were placed on each side of the center aisle, requiring a few members to sit across from the rest of their party. Since 1877, however, the practice has developed of moving desks back and forth across the aisle to permit all members of each party to sit on the appropriate side.
  • Messenger - Messengers delivered documents, brought messages, and informed members of a roll call vote.
  • Assistant Doorkeeper - The positions of doorkeeper and assistant doorkeeper were first established in 1789. These officers tended the Senate Chamber door and enforced order in the galleries. The officer now responsible for these duties is the sergeant at arms of the Senate, whose full title is “sergeant at arms and doorkeeper.”  The sergeant at arms is the chief law enforcement, protocol, and executive officer of the Senate.