National Landmark Series: The Liberty Bell, a Symbol of Freedom
The Liberty Bell is a symbolic part of American history. Many Americans may assume, myself included, that the Liberty Bell earned it's name and reputation during the Revolutionary War. It wasn't until I visited Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, that I realized how much more there is to it's history.
In 1751 Isaac Norris, speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, ordered a bell to be made for the bell tower of the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall). Ordered from the Whitechapel Foundry in London; it was this bell that would be known as the State House bell and later the Liberty Bell. Unfortunately, after the first casting, it cracked on the first ring. John Pass and John Stow, local metal workers in Philadelphia took the cracked bell and melted it down to cast a new one. After a successful second casting, the new State House bell rang for lawmakers and townspeople alike. The State House bell is even mentioned in a letter written by Benjamin Franklin in 1755.
How then, did an ordinary State House bell become a symbol of Freedom and Liberty for so many? To answer that question, we have to look to the inscription written on the bell. It reads: "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof."
During my research of the Liberty Bell, I was surprised to learn this inscription was largely ignored during the Revolutionary War. It wasn't until the 1830's when Abolitionists sought to end slavery in America that the inscription began to inspire people to take action.
The State House bell was first referred to as the Liberty Bell by an abolitionist publication called The Anti-Slavery Record in 1835, however the name wouldn't catch on until many years later. Throughout the mid to late 1800's many American's became familiar with the Liberty Bell as it traveled across the country on display at expositions and fairs. As it traveled around at the end of the Civil War, it reminded Americans of a time when they fought together for Independence. It became a symbol of unity. In the 20th century, the Liberty Bell was embraced by the Woman's Suffrage and Civil Rights movements. Using it both for protest and celebration.
There isn't a record of why or when the Liberty Bell first cracked. By the 1840's it had endured nearly 90 years of hard use and could have developed a narrow split. By 1846 the city of Philadelphia decided to repair the bell with metal workers widening the thin crack in an attempt to prevent it from further spreading. The crack we see today is actually the repair job meant to save the bell! Unfortunately the repair was not successful and a second crack developed. This one silenced the bell forever.
Did You Know?
The Liberty Bell weighed 2,080 lbs when it was first ordered.
It is made of bronze. However, it is also 70% copper, 25% tin and contains small amounts of lead, gold, arsenic, silver, and zinc.
The wooden yoke of the bell is made from American elm.
Evidence shows that the bell rang to mark the Stamp Act tax and its repeal, however there isn't any evidence it rang on July 4 or 8, 1776.
If you're interested in learning more about the Liberty Bell, I recommend these books:
Sources for this article: https://www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/libertybellcenter.htm