Re-visiting Benjamin Franklin’s Discussion of a Chair

by Whitney Pitcher

On the last day of Republican National Convention, actor Clint Eastwood gave part of his speech in conversation with an empty chair, which represented the empty leadership of President Obama. In his “dialogue” Mr. Eastwood noted that we, as Americans, own this country, and politicians work for us:

Nonetheless, following that speech President Obama tweeted the following from his campaign Twitter account:

Yes, the seat may currently be occupied by Barack Obama, but it belongs to the people of America. One of the great things about our constitutional Republic is that we are afforded the opportunity every four years to vote on who occupies that seat–it’s not a throne. Our leaders are accountable to us.

Nearly two hundred and twenty-five years ago, in the city of Philadelphia, another octagenerian–Benjamin Franklin– had his own discussion about a president’s chair. Even at the age of 81, Franklin was one of the Pennsylvania delegates at the Constitutional convention. George Washington presided over this convention and sat at in a chair at the front of the hall. The chair had the a gold painted piece on the back fashioned in the shape of a sun (seen below):

Franklin had some remarks about this chair that George Washington sat in for the duration of the convention:

As the representatives signed the Constitution, Franklin watched. The president’s chair was at the front of the hall, and a sun was painted on the back of the chair. Franklin told some of the members near him that it was always difficult for painters to show the difference between the rising sun and the setting sun. He said that during the convention he had often looked at the painted sun and wondered “…whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

It was a rising sun–rising on the greatest nation on earth following the crafting of the best political document ever to be written. This document starts with “We the people”; the power of the government that this document outlined was with the people. During the convention, the Founders thought there were seats that deserved to be discussed prior to that of the presidency–the legislative branch. The first article of the Constitution is devoted to the elections, requirements, and functions of a bicameral congress. (Don’t let Joe Biden’s 2008 vice presidential debate performance confuse you–the executive branch is discussed in the second article of the Constitution, not the first).This means that with our current Congressional system there are 535 seats (435 House and 100 Senate seats)–representing the individual states– that our Founders thought were of first priority to mention. Unfortunately, the promise of that rising sun has been eclipsed over the last two centuries by unconstitutional power grabs from presidents and misguided abdication by the legislative branch itself. Nevertheless, the power to write laws, develop budgets, and other tasks lie constitutionally with this branch. Their role is extremely important.

In this year’s election there are 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats, and 1 president’s seat up for a vote. While executive power within in the United States and a representation of leadership worldwide lie with the president, we cannot forget not only that this seat belongs to the people of America, and that there are 468 other seats up for a vote this year that are of extreme importance. Our constitution states that all bills for raising revenue must begin in the House of Representatives. Because of a lack of leadership, our Senate has not passed a budget in three years, despite the work of the House to present them with a budget. This lack of leadership and dire need for fiscal responsibility is just one of the many reasons I wrote a few months ago about the importance of the Senate races in this year’s election. Regardless of who is elected to the presidency in November, a conservative, reform minded  House and Senate is necessary to help ensure that proverbial sun is neither eclipsed, nor sets. All of this is not to diminish the important role of the presidency, but to put it in constitutional perspective.

Whether it is the seat of the presidency or of Congress or any other seat at any level of government, those who occupy those seats  must remember to whom that seat ultimately belongs–the people who elected them.  Is the sun that Franklin spoke of continuing to rise on America? Is it morning in a America? Or is it a time where the clouds of a presidential fiats, Congressional abdications, and arrogant leadership darken the promise of the Founding Fathers? Thankfully, the answer lies with us–with our vote–with our desire to truly make this a nation of  “We the People”.

 

Follow me on Twitter @whitneypitcher.

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