Saturday Art: Liberty Bell, for Patriots’ Day
(Picture courtesy of Serguey at wikipedia commons.)
Today we celebrate the beginning of the American Revolution, as April 19th was the date that the British came to ‘every Middlesex village and farm’, after Paul Revere rode to warn the colonists in Lexington and Concord, MA, where the townspeople fought back. A symbol associated with the Revolutionary War that followed is itself a work of art, while representing our nation’s original rejection of tyranny from the king that ruled Great Britain.
The Liberty Bell is an iconic symbol of American independence, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formerly placed in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (now renamed Independence Hall), the bell was commissioned from the London firm of Lester and Pack (today theWhitechapel Bell Foundry) in 1752, and was cast with the lettering (part of Leviticus 25:10) “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” It originally cracked when first rung after arrival in Philadelphia, and was twice recast by local workmen John Pass and John Stow, whose last names appear on the bell. In its early years, the Liberty Bell was used to summon lawmakers to legislative sessions and to alert citizens to public meetings and proclamations.
No immediate announcement was made of the Second Continental Congress‘s vote for independence, and thus the bell could not have rung on July 4, 1776, at least not for any reason related to that vote. Bells were rung to mark the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776, and while there is no contemporary account of the Liberty Bell ringing, most historians believe it was one of the bells rung. After American independence was secured, it fell into relative obscurity for some years. In the 1830s, the bell was adopted as a symbol byabolitionist societies, who dubbed it the “Liberty Bell.” It acquired its distinctive large crack sometime in the early 19th century—a widespread story claims it cracked while ringing after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835.
The bell became famous after an 1847 short story claimed that an aged bell-ringer rang it on July 4, 1776, upon hearing of the Second Continental Congress‘s vote for independence. Despite the fact that the bell did not ring for independence on that July 4, the tale was widely accepted as fact, even by some historians. Beginning in 1885, the City of Philadelphia, which owns the bell, allowed it to go to various expositions and patriotic gatherings. The bell attracted huge crowds wherever it went, additional cracking occurred and pieces were chipped away by souvenir hunters. The last such journey occurred in 1915, after which the city refused further requests.
The Pass and Stow bell was first termed “the Liberty Bell” in the New York Anti-Slavery Society’s journal, Anti-Slavery Record. In an 1835 piece, “The Liberty Bell”, Philadelphians were castigated for not doing more for the abolitionist cause. Two years later, in another work of that society, the journal Liberty featured an image of the bell as its frontispiece, with the words “Proclaim Liberty”. In 1839, Boston’s Friends of Liberty, another abolitionist group, titled their journal The Liberty Bell. The same year, William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery publication The Liberator reprinted a Boston abolitionist pamphlet containing a poem entitled “The Liberty Bell”, which noted that, at that time, despite its inscription, the bell did not proclaim liberty to all the inhabitants of the land.
The Whitechapel Foundry still is making bells in London, England, and makes its own statement about the bell.
At a meeting of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania on or about November 1st, 1751, the Superintendents (Isaac Norris, Thomas Leech and Edward Warner), were instructed to procure a bell of about 2,000 lbs. weight from England. This instruction laid down the prophetic inscription that was to be placed on the bell and stipulated that it should be delivered before the scaffolding around the building in which it was to be hung, was struck at the end of the following summer. Thomas Lester of this Foundry and in these same premises was the Founder chosen, and in September 1752, the bell is recorded as having come ashore in good order. A report dated March 1753 states that after hanging, it became cracked at the first stroke. They endeavoured to return it to England by the same ship, but the Master of the vessel was unable to take it on board. Thereupon, two “ingenious” workmen, Pass and Stow, both of Philadelphia, undertook to recast it. On breaking up Lester’s bell, they pronounced it too brittle and modified the alloy by adding 1½ oz. of copper to every 1 lb. of Lester’s bell.
They did not appreciate that bell metal is brittle, and relies on this to a great extent for its freedom of tone. They made a new casting which was not successful and, in their second recasting – having learnt the lesson – they restored the correct balance of metal and this is the bell that now hangs in the Liberty Bell Center, directly across from an earlier home, Independence Hall.
Later in 1753 some further dissatisfaction was expressed and negotiations were made with Thomas Lester to recast it for a charge of 2d. per lb. This, however, never materialised and Pass and Stow’s second recasting was finally hung in the State House Steeple.
While the bell can be visited in Philadelphia today, it was during the British occupation there hidden away to prevent its being melted and used for British bullets against U.S. revolutionaries. It has been rung in celebration of our Independence Day, July 4th, but developed a crack and has been kept silent so that it would stay in one original piece.
Because so many nutjobs have used Patriots’ Day to commit atrocities, such as the Oklahoma City bombing, very few celebrate the day in ceremonies and Patriots’ Day marathon has been moved to another date in Boston.
Lexington and Concord still observe the day, itself, as part of their tradition as where the Revolutionary War began. This year, ‘due to budgetary constraints’, the ceremony has been called off. Backpacks are not allowed, either. Some re-enactments will take place.