A Surprise

Isaac Bassett
Freeman Thorp


A Surprise

Soon after the adjournment of the Senate on the 3rd day of August 1876, Mr. Ferry, the president of the Senate came up to me and said, “Captain, I want to see you for a few minutes in the Marble Room.” I in my usual way said, “Certainly Sir,” and made a polite bow—he then put his arm in mine and led me to the Marble Room—and to my surprise, I saw quite a crowd. He turned my attention to a portrait that had been covered over and made this remark, “Look at that picture and see if you can recognize it.” I must confess that I never was so embarrassed in my life before. Immediately Mr. Christie, addressed me in the words that is in his kind and short address, presenting to me a portrait (of your humble servant), painted by order of so many senators. I knew not what to say—for I was taken by surprise not knowing that any such thing was in contemplation. It was kept a perfect secret from me. I knew nothing whatever of it until I was brought to face it, that was the first that I had ever heard or seen of the portrait. It will be seen that it was the intention of Senator Anthony to make the presentation but [he] was called away on some important business. How can I express my kindness to all of the senators—words cannot do it, my heart overflows with gratitude to them all.

Below will be found a copy of Mr. Anthony’s letter and what was said and done.  This is a copy taken from The Providence Daily Journal of Thursday August 10,1876. [14E112-14E115]

[Newspaper Clipping] [14E116]

Editor's Note:

In 1876 members of the Senate commissioned artist Freeman Thorp to paint a portrait of Isaac Bassett as a “testimonial of their personal regard and of their high appreciation of the intelligence, the promptness, and accuracy, and the conscientious fidelity” that had exemplified Bassett’s 45 years of service up to that point.

People, Places, & Things:

  • Thomas White Ferry (Republican - MI) U.S. senator 1871-1883.
  • President of the Senate - Under the Constitution, the vice president serves as president of the Senate. In the Senate Chamber, the vice president sits on the platform at the front of the Senate. He is allowed to vote only in the case of a tie. The president pro tempore, or others designated by that officer, presides in the absence of the vice president.
  • Captain - Early in the Civil War it was decided by the senators and employees of the Senate that it was necessary to organize a military company for the defense of the Capitol should it come under attack. Bassett was unanimously elected captain. His command consisted of the Hamlin Guards, an independent company of Senate employees named after Vice President Hannibal Hamlin.
  • Marble Room - Constructed as part of the 1850s Capitol extension, the Marble Room is adjacent to the current Senate Chamber, just off the Senate Lobby.
  • James I. Christie - For a period of Bassett's career, Mr. Christie worked as assistant doorkeeper in the Senate Chamber.
  • Henry Bowen Anthony (Republican - RI) U.S. senator 1859-1884.