What Does The Sergeant At Arms Actually Do?

The U.S. government relies on a complex web of people to maintain order. While some of the many titles and positions are pretty clear, like the president, or the speaker of the house, there are plenty that aren't as well-known to the public. You've probably at least heard of the sergeant at arms, but do you know what the title means?

The sergeant at arms is "chief law enforcement and protocol officer" for the United States Senate. That means they're responsible for things like enforcing rules in the Senate Chamber and escorting government officials to events in the U.S. Capitol (via the United States Senate). The sergeant at arms plays a part in some larger procedures, including impeachment trials like those former President Donald Trump faced during his term. But they also have more ordinary responsibilities, like bringing senators to the Senate Chambers to establish a quorum (via the United States Senate).

Where did the title come from?

The U.S. has had a sergeant at arms since the end of the 18th century, according to the United States Senate. But the position itself goes all the way back to the Roman Empire, and has a long history in Great Britain as well (via Mental Floss). Past iterations of sergeants at arms served as bodyguards for emperors or filled the role of police officers (according to Mental Floss), which is a little different from what the current U.S. position entails.

Despite the long history, though, the United States initially rejected a proposal to bring in a sergeant at arms (via the United States Senate). Instead, they opted to create a "doorkeeper" position to ensure the senate chambers were secure. That position was changed to the sergeant at arms about nine years later, according to the senate. But there are still doorkeepers under the sergeant's authority in the Capitol who help accomplish the duties of the role.