Welcome to the Tuesday edition of the Coffee Hour here at the Street Prophets group. This an open thread where we can talk about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Speaking about liberty, I thought I’d start off by talking about the Liberty Bell.
Most Americans, and probably a few non-Americans, have heard stories about the Liberty Bell which is enshrined in Philadelphia. School books are filled with imaginative stories about this symbol of American independence. Unfortunately, most of the stories are simply the product of creative imaginations trying to create a new history of the United States.
Let’s look at the facts. The bell was installed in the Pennsylvania State House (now called Independence Hall) in 1753. When independence was declared in 1776, there is no evidence, at least from contemporary accounts of the event, that the bell was actually rung to commemorate or announce this event.
The Pennsylvania State House as it looked about 1770 is shown above.
The bell was cast by the firm of Lester and Pack in London and shipped to Philadelphia in1752. It was mounted on a stand to test its sound and on the first strike of the clapper, the bell’s rim cracked. When Philadelphia authorities attempted to return the defective bell to its makers, they were unable to find a ship to take it. The foundry would later claim that the bell was either damaged in transit or was broken by an inexperienced bell ringer sent the clapper against the rim instead of the body of the bell.
Two local men, John Pass and John Stow, neither of whom had any experience with bell casting, broke the bell into small pieces, melted them down, and cast a new bell. In doing this they augmented the metal by adding copper as they felt the original metal was too brittle.
The re-cast bell was scheduled for its inauguration at a public celebration with free food and drink. The bell was rung and sounded like to coal scuttles being banged together. The crowd booed and Pass and Stow quickly removed it and once again recast it. In recasting, they added cheap pewter with a high lead content to the metal. The result was a brittle bell which would later allow souvenir collectors to break off pieces from the rim.
While it is a good looking bell, as bells go, when the city of Philadelphia tried to sell it for scrap in 1828, no one stepped up to buy it.
In 1847, George Lippard created the myth of the Liberty Bell which he published in his book Legends of the American Revolution. From here, the myth was incorporated into the “histories” which children have learned from the past century and a half and which, just because they were written down, are considered factually correct.
A popular image of the mythological ringing of the bell to announce independence is shown above.
The bell’s inscription—“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”—is from the Christian Bible and has nothing to do with American independence.
This is an open thread. Feel free to add your comments, talk about dinner, or anything else that’s on your mind.