SARGE: Washington’s Rising Sun Chair, And Lost Practicality

Yesterday I alluded to the chair George Washington sat in for nearly three months of the Federal Convention in 1787. The chair is constructed of mahogany by John Folwell circa 1779. It is of sturdy construction showing the particular utility of its purpose and the time it was constructed in. While ornate in some decorative sense it’s known specifically for the metaphor developed from Madison and Franklin’s appreciation for the symbolism they attached to it.

John Folwell, a noted cabinet and furniture maker of the time, provided the Pennsylvania Assembly with a new chair for the legislature’s Speaker. Today, we call it the “Rising Sun Chair” Franklin observed in 1787, the gilded sun was on the top of the chair and it was noted as comparable to America under the Constitution in that both the Sun and the new nation would rise to the apparent greatness they deserved. This particular chair was a replacement for one earlier used by John Hancock before being destroyed by the British when they occupied Philadelphia in 1777. The original chair was the very chair John Hancock used while the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed in 1776.

I’ve always thought of the chair as representative of our ideals set in the Federalist/ Provincial design. It’s appears spare, orderly and effective with its support and structure. It had little more than is necessary to get the job done: the support of the American citizen seated there contemplating the course this nation would take. It was utilitarian and structured so as to work for the purpose it was designed. It was of use for only as long as the job needed to be done and then the inhabitant should move on. The chair isn’t so comfortable it allows the individual to grow overly comfortable in his posture. It doesn’t allow for the presumption he can remain there until his rotting carcass becomes fetid with the stench he leaves behind in his passing. The overall concept of limited government is represented in the style and design. To build or add-on anything else would be a waste of time and would add nothing to the function. This is in contrast to the plush, over-stuffed “easy chairs” inhabited by politicians in Washington today.

This is what government has done to itself and to us as it’s developed a life and structure of its own in add-ons and the creation of extraneous adjuncts serving little purpose to the people it alleges to serve. This does no more than evidence the overlarge ego of the renovator thinking he can improve what needs no improvement or fix for what isn’t broken.

Surely the Rising Sun Chair underwent changes. The feet were changed from casters to flat caps of banded brass to avoid chipping and fracture. Various efforts to reupholster the chair were necessary and the transitions show the efforts to make the chair closer to its original form and function as the leather wore, possibly cracked and slowly decomposed from the stresses of its use. Some of the changes were necessary; others were merely cosmetic and sought to appease some designer or another’s drive to be recognized.

Where the original purpose of any care and re-construction efforts was designed with the preservation of the original woodwork and frame structure of this most important of colonial artifacts, the drive to repair and maintain the chair has led to a problem most people aren’t aware of. During the re-upholstery process the newest leather upholstery was attached to a thin and delicate platform sitting upon, but not attached to, the frame of the chair. Because of this effort to not directly attach anything directly to the framework and thus create an appearance of holes from nails, glues and rough treatment, the chair can’t support any weight at this time.

In so many ways the chair is emblematic of what we’re seeing today in Washington D.C. We have a chair that is apparently beautiful and appears functional and durable, but, is no more than a lovely memory of what we once trusted as supportive of the weight people place on it. In effect it’s been de-constructed by fundamental changes making its purpose more illusory than practical.

The sun at the head of this chair is rising, but we must see that it is now symbolic and NOT trust to the faux conservators telling us it’s as good as it was originally.

Thanks for listening

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