Americana: The Liberty Bell
The first Liberty Bell cracked. The second sounded awful. The third didn't sound much better, and also cracked. But we love it because it called citizens to the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.
The Liberty Bell sits silent today, a symbol of our national values and an icon of freedom. But in its early days, it was rung for many important occasions. When King George III took the throne, ironically, in 1761. When the first Continental Congress was convened in 1774. And most famously of all, on July 8, 1776 to summon the citizens of Philadelphia to hear the reading of the new Declaration of Independence.
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The Pennsylvania legislature chose to order a bell as a way to honor the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges. The bell as we see it today is actually the third casting attempt. When the original bell arrived from England’s Whitechapel Foundry, it was tested for sound – and proceeded to crack. Two Philadelphia metalsmiths melted it down, added some copper, and tried it again. This time, no one liked its sound at all. So the two men tried again, with not much more success. Whitechapel Foundry was asked to try again, but their new bell wasn’t any better. So the original bell – our Liberty Bell – remained in the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. Crack and all.
Even following the American Revolution, the bell wasn’t known by its present name. It was called “Independence Bell” or the “Old Yankee’s Bell” until 1833. A pamphlet issued by the American Anti-Slavery Society first gave it the name “Liberty Bell.”
Of course, that comes from the inscription on the bell itself. It reads, in part, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof. Lev. XXV X” So you don’t have to look it up, here’s what Leviticus 25:10 says: “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”
You can see why those who worked for the end of slavery approved of this verse on the Liberty Bell, can’t you?
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