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Foundation of all moral liberty—not the rising sun, but the risen Son whose light Never Sets by Fr. George W. Rutler



July 3, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler


In Independence Hall is preserved a chair crafted in 1779 by the cabinetmaker John Folwell, with a sun on the horizon carved at the top. For nearly three months in 1787, George Washington used it during the Constitutional Convention. Benjamin Franklin mused: “I have . . . often in the course of the session . . . looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.” On each subsequent generation falls the obligation to keep that sun rising, a task which requires the virtues that animated Washington as described by Henry Lee III: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. . .”

But July 4 is about two Georges, and the sun of King George III is occluded in a mental darkness. Both Georges—true to their name, since it means husbandman—loved few things more than farming. When the American painter Benjamin West told the king that Washington had spurned a crown to return to his plantation, George III said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” Washington let drop his Augustan dignity when he raged at the report that New Yorkers had torn down an equestrian statue of the king in New York City. The horse’s tail is preserved in the Museum of the City of New York.

Washington fathered a nation but no children, and perhaps fortunately so, since that precluded the possibility of a dynasty. Names such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton and Bush were unknown to him. George III was the loving father of fifteen and defied court convention by his faithfulness to the Queen Sophia Charlotte. He promoted science, founded Maynooth Seminary for Irish Catholics and proposed the emancipation of slaves in Virginia, where Jefferson, in contempt for moral consistency, kept slaves while accusing the king of condoning the slave trade.

Great Britain has had its own Declaration of Independence recently in the “Brexit” vote, for good or ill depending on which pub is polled. But the two Georges shared one assurance as the foundation of all moral liberty—not the rising sun, but the risen Son whose light never sets: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).


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