The 19th century was an era of tremendous crisis and transformation in the history of the United States, and the Senate played a central role in steering the nation through these turbulent times. Isaac Bassett, uniquely placed among the senators, was an eyewitness to the triumphs, defeats, and great moments of this era.
Isaac Bassett's memoirs often focused on the personalities of the Senate, recollecting colorful times and camaraderie. He recorded the intimate side of the institution—jokes that the senators shared, behind-the-scenes stories, and the confidences that generations of senators bestowed upon him.
Isaac Bassett was perfectly placed to witness the inner workings of the Senate. By the 1880s the elderly Bassett, with his long gray beard and stately bearing, had come to symbolize the gentlemanly, statesmanlike qualities that represented the Senate for many at its best. He freely entertained anyone who would listen with stories of the Senate in "olden times."
For 64 years, Isaac Bassett manned his post, seated on the rostrum or at his desk in the corner of the Chamber whenever the Senate met. The Senate Chamber was his domain; he supervised staff and pages, ensured that senators had all they needed, and controlled access to the room. Senators came to regard him as an indispensable part of the institution, dubbing him the "venerable official," and honoring him with tokens of their esteem.
Several of the Senate's most unusual traditions were either started or carefully preserved by Isaac Bassett. His long service, knowledge of the institution, and respect for the material culture of the Senate made him the ideal person for this role.