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Secretary of the Senate

Image of Samuel Otis of Massachusetts

The Senate chose its first secretary on April 8, 1789, just two days after achieving its first quorum. An elected office, the secretary supervises much of the Senate's daily operations, including keeping the minutes and transmitting official messages to and from the president. As the Senate evolved into a large, complex institution, the duties of the secretary grew as well. Two individuals profoundly guided this growth. The first secretary of the Senate, Samuel Otis, established its general administrative, legislative, and financial roles. In an era when few senators served a full six-year term, Otis provided badly needed institutional continuity throughout his 25 years on the job. While Otis founded the office, Secretary Asbury Dickins stabilized it and instituted reforms that made the office more efficient and accountable. Elected in 1836, his quarter-century of service coincided with a period of national political turmoil that propelled the Senate to the forefront of American political action. Dickins retired in 1861, at the dawn of the Civil War.