October 22: Asbury Dickins (1861)

Asbury Dickins served as Secretary of the U.S. Senate for 25 years. Dickins’ service coincided with the Senate’s “Golden Age,” a period of national political turmoil that propelled the Senate to the front rank of America’s political institutions.  In its increasingly jammed chamber, the “Great Triumvirate” of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun held forth on the divisive issues of territorial expansion.  During Dickins’ tenure, sixteen additional senators from eight new states took their places in that chamber. Prior to his appointment as Secretary, Dickins had worked as a publisher, a bookseller, and as chief clerk in the Treasury and then the State Department. When Dickins took over the position in 1836, the Secretary’s Office consisted of six clerks and one messenger. Within the Secretary’s Office, the growth in the Senate’s membership and national stature brought additional staff and more detailed job descriptions.

Asbury Dickins, aged 62, with eight children and numerous grandchildren, appears to have been associated with Epiphany from its founding. The baptisms of two of his granddaughters took place in early 1844, before the initial church building was completed. Over the next several decades, there are at least 16 entries of baptisms, confirmations, and burials for members of his family. Asbury Dickins helped direct the Senate’s institutional activities at a time of vast political growth and turmoil.  That he survived several changes in party control attests to the bipartisan respect he earned for his office.  On July 15, 1861, with hostile armies maneuvering to seize Washington, the eighty-year-old Secretary reluctantly retired and died soon thereafter.  Since that time, no successor has witnessed as much institutional change or come within reach of his longevity record. The funeral of Asbury Dickins took place from Epiphany Church before his interment in Congressional Cemetery amongst those he served so faithfully.

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