Hon. Samuel Allyne Otis, 1st Secretary of the U.S. Senate (Continental Army)

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Samuel Allyne Otis

Birthdate: (73)
Birthplace: Barnstable, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: April 22, 1814 (73)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Place of Burial: Congressional Cemetary, Washington DC, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Col. and Judge James Otis, Esq. and Mary Otis
Husband of Elizabeth Otis and Mary Otis
Father of Harrison Gray Otis, U.S. Senator; Elizabeth Otis; Samuel Allyne Otis; Abigail Otis; Jonathan Mayhew Otis and 3 others
Brother of James Otis, Jr.; Joseph Otis; Mercy Otis Warren; Mary Gray; Hannah Otis and 4 others

Occupation: 1st Sect. of the US Senate (1789-1814); Speaker of the MA House of Rep. (1784-1785); Delegate from MA to the 2nd Continental Congress (1777-1778)
Managed by: Private User
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About Hon. Samuel Allyne Otis, 1st Secretary of the U.S. Senate (Continental Army)

Samuel Allyne Otis was an early Patriot.He was the first Secretary of the US Senate from 1789 to his death in 1814. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetary.



Samuel A. Otis (son of James Otis, Sr., father of Harrison Gray Otis and brother of prominent revolutionary James Otis, Jr. and America's first female playwright Mercy Otis Warren), a Delegate from Massachusetts; born in Barnstable, Barnstable County, Mass., November 24, 1740; was graduated from Harvard College in 1759; engaged in mercantile pursuits in Boston; member of the state house of representatives in 1776; member of the Board of War in 1776; collector of clothing for the Continental Army in 1777; member of the Massachusetts constitutional convention; again a member of the state house of representatives 1784-1787 and elected speaker of the house in 1784; Member of the Continental Congress in 1787 and 1788; elected Secretary of the United States Senate on April 8, 1789, and served until his death in Washington, D.C., April 22, 1814; interment in Congressional Cemetery.

Secretary of the Senate

Early in 1789, as plans went forward for establishing the new Congress under the recently ratified Constitution, a heated contest developed for the job of Senate Secretary. The obvious candidate was dapper sixty-year-old Charles Thomson, secretary of the soon-to-expire Continental Congress during its entire fifteen-year existence. But Thomson weakened his candidacy by telling friends that he had a different secretarial post in mind—one in George Washington's cabinet. As the March 1789 convening date of the Senate neared, however, Thomson realized that he had no chance of landing a cabinet appointment. Consequently, he decided he would indeed like to become the first Secretary of the Senate—as well as Secretary of the House and Secretary of the entire government. This would not be too taxing, he thought, because he expected to have an assistant who would "do the ordinary business of the [Senate], so that I may not be under the necessity of attending except on special occasions and when the great business of the Nation is under deliberation." This expression of Thomson's lofty self-importance helps explain why he had attracted a more-than-usual number of enemies during his public career.

A group of those foes devised a scheme—disguised as an honor—to get him out of town during the crucial last-minute maneuvering leading to the Secretary's election. Congressional leaders asked Thomson to travel from the nation's temporary New York City capital to Virginia to "notify" George Washington of his election and accompany the president-elect back to New York. Washington needed no notification, but he accepted Thomson's companionship in good humor. With Thomson safely away from the Senate, Vice President-elect John Adams maneuvered for the election of his own candidate—Samuel Allyne Otis.

Supremely qualified for the job, the forty-eight-year-old Otis had been a former quartermaster of the Continental army, speaker of the Massachusetts house of representatives, member of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and John Adams' long-term ally. On April 8, 1789, two days after the Senate achieved its first quorum, members elected Otis as their chief legislative, financial, and administrative officer.

Otis' early duties combined symbolism and substance. On April 30, he had the high honor of holding the Bible as George Washington took his presidential oath of office. Throughout that first session, which lasted until September, Otis tirelessly engaged the many tasks associated with establishing a new institution. As the Senate set down its legislative procedures and carefully negotiated relations with the House and President Washington, Otis became a key player.

Others noticed and several coveted his increasingly influential job. Among the contenders was William Jackson, a secretary to President Washington. Jackson asked Washington to advance his prospects by removing Otis from the scene—through an appointment to a federal post in Massachusetts. Washington failed to cooperate, perhaps thinking that John Adams might view this as executive meddling in legislative affairs. From 1789 to 1801—the period of Adams' eight years as Vice President, and four as President—Otis enjoyed great job security. The situation changed in 1801. The electoral "Revolution of 1800", which shifted control of Congress and the presidency from the Adams Federalists to the Jeffersonian Republicans, gave Otis reason to begin checking his retirement options. When John Quincy Adams became a senator in 1803, he reported to his father that Otis "is much alarmed at the prospect of being removed from office. It has been signified to him that in order to retain it, he must have all the [Senate's] printing done by [William] Duane [editor of an anti-Adams newspaper]. His compliance may possibly preserve him one session longer." The Senate subsequently awarded Duane the lucrative contract.

Through the considerable political turbulence between 1800 and 1814, Samuel Otis held on as Secretary. But with the passing years, Otis appeared to some as less vigorous in attending to his duties. Senators complained that the Senate Journal was not being kept up to date, official communications not recorded in a timely way, and records kept in a "blind confused manner" – but no one actively moved to replace him. Like Continental Congress Secretary Charles Thomson, Otis had become the body's institutional memory at a time of great turnover among members.

When the seventy-three-year-old Otis died on April 22, 1814, having not missed a single day's work in twenty-five years, senators seemed truly to lament his passing. The stability that he brought to the office endured well into the nineteenth century. His successor, former New Hampshire Senator Charles Cutts, served for eleven years. Cutts' successor, former Pennsylvania Senator Walter Lowrie, held the post from 1825 to 1836, followed by Asbury Dickins, who came within six months of breaking Otis' still-standing quarter-century service record. When Dickins retired in 1861 at age eighty, the Senate voted him an additional year's salary, using language that would have been equally fitting to Otis – "an old and faithful servant of the Senate."

Samuel Allyne Otis. (2012, November 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:48, August 24, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Samuel_Allyne_Otis&oldid=523235627

  • Title The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volumes 3-4
  • Contributor New England Historic Genealogical Society
  • Publisher New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1849
  • Original from University of Minnesota
  • Digitized Mar 29, 2011

Page 143

Hon. Samuel Allyne4 (76), who m. Elizabeth, dau. of Hon. Harrison Gray; and, 2d, Mary, widow of Edward Gray, and dau. of Israel Smith, had:

(172) L Harrison Gray,6 b. 8 Oct., 1765, m. Sally, dau. of William Foster, Esq., merchant of Boston, 31 May, 1790. She was b. 10 Jan., 1770, and d. 6 Sept., 1838, ae. 66 years and 8 months nearly. A very just tribute to her memory may be found in a Philadelphia paper of the time.

Mr. Otis d. 28 Oct., 1848, Saturday, at 2 o'clock, A. M., at his residence in Beacon Street, Boston, in the 84th year of his age.

He graduated at H. C. 1783, read law with John Lowell, was admitted to the Bar 1786, and was chosen Representative in Congress for the Suffolk District in 1797, as soon as he was constitutionally qualified by age, as the successor of Fisher Ames, which station he held during the whole of the Administration of John Adams — eight years. For many years he was an active and efficient member of one or other branch of the State Legislature; — Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1803 to 1805, and for six years President of the Senate. He also, at different periods, held the office of Judge of the Boston Court of Common Pleas, and third Mayor of the city of Boston, Jan., 1829. He was elected a Senator to the 16th Congress, 1817, which station he held for five years, when he resigned, June, 1822.

In 1823, after the long administration of Gov. Brooks, he was the Federal candidate for Governor of the Commonwealth, but the strong rally of the Democratic party in that year, brought into office Gov. Eustis in opposition to him.

He was one of the prominent members of the convention that met at Hartford in Dec., 1814, to deliberate on the condition of public affairs;— and many years since he wrote and published a series of letters, in a pamphlet form, in vindication of the views and proceedings of that convention.

On retiring from the mayoralty, he withdrew from all public employment, and resided till his decease in his elegant mansion in Boston.

(173) n. Samuel Allyne,6 b. 1768, m. Elizabeth Coffin; and, 2d, Elizabeth Coffin Marquand. He was bred to commerce, and established in business with the brightest prospects at Cape Francois, when the insurrection burst forth which drove him, and all the whites who escaped massacre, from the island. He afterwards settled in Newburyport, Ms., where he d. in 1814.

(174) III. George,6 b. , d. early.



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Hon. Samuel Allyne Otis, 1st Secretary of the U.S. Senate (Continental Army)'s Timeline

November 24, 1740
Barnstable, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States
October 8, 1765
Age 24
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts
April 6, 1767
Age 26
Cambridge, MA, United States
Age 27
Cambridge, MA, United States
Age 33
Cambridge, MA, United States
December 1787
Age 47
Age 53
April 22, 1814
Age 73
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States