Faith Works 7-3-10
A Bell To Call Them Together
E-flat is the note it rings, but it hasn't rung out since Washington's birthday in 1846. A large bell, but not remarkably so, three feet tall in metal, closer to five foot with the wooden carriage it once swung on.
And it has a crack. You know it as the Liberty Bell, a name given almost a century after it first arrived on these shores from London, England.
"Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," commands Leviticus 25:10, or "Lev. XXV v. X" as you would see that verse cited, in perhaps its most famous appearance outside of the Bible itself, an inscription across the side of that bell in Philadelphia.
It was the democratically elected Pennsylvania Assembly that ordered a bell in 1751, to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn's 1701 "Charter of Privileges," Pennsylvania's original Constitution. They wanted to honor Penn's ideas on religious freedom, for Native American rights, and his desire to involve all the populace in enacting laws.
Ordered from the historic Whitechapel Foundry in London (and still working, as any handbell choir member can tell you), with a request for the Leviticus quote coming straight from the vote of the Assembly itself, the three foot tall bell arrived in 1752. Hung on a temporary carriage for test ringing, it immediately cracked – and so was re-cast by two Philadelphia foundrymen named John Pass and John Stow, who tried to melt it down, added copper to the mix, and found the new bell didn't sound right – so they melted it down and re-cast it one more time in 1753, hence "Pass and Stow / Philada / MDCCLIII" with the bell now back to weighing its original 2080 pounds.
By tradition and common sense reasoning, it is known to have sung out upon the public reading, on July 8, 1776, of the approved Declaration of Independence, since it was the "State House Bell." Then, of course, it was the "Independence Bell" after it was safely spirited out of Philadelphia before British occupiers could melt it down for munitions during the Revolution. But this bell achieved its uniquely iconic status after it had been re-hung at what was now "Independence Hall," when early 19th century abolitionists adopted the "The Old Yankee's Bell" as a symbol for their movement. An engraving of it was first used in this context as a frontispiece to an 1837 edition of their magazine "Liberty," from the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Those abolitionists called it first the "Liberty Bell," in reference to its Biblical inscription.
In retrospect, it was a painfully apt metaphor for a nation literally cracked, with freedom divided for its enslaved inhabitants. The line following "proclaim liberty" in the Leviticus passage is, "It shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family." The Abolitionist Movement understood this passage as saying that the Bible called for all slaves and prisoners to be freed every 50 years.
William Lloyd Garrison's anti-slavery publication "The Liberator" reprinted a Boston abolitionist pamphlet containing a poem about the Bell, entitled, "The Liberty Bell," which represents the first documented use of the name, "Liberty Bell."
After 1846 the crack, running from the three inch thick lip almost all the way to the crown's thinner one inch depth, made it too dangerous to ring even ceremonially. It became an icon, an image, a bell which spoke in symbol and through that inscription from Leviticus more than by ringing, and farther in print than sound could ever travel.
Yet its voice had one more service to perform.
As World War II began, an exact replica was made of the now Liberty Bell, except for the crack – E flat, of course. This bell toured the country helping sell . . . Liberty Bonds. And on June 6, 1944, when Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy in France, the sound of this bell was broadcast all across the country, and all around the world, as a signal, an omen, a note of hope and a ringing promise of freedom.
You can hear this bell, and its faithful echo of the 1751 original, at
You might hear a whisper of the voice of Moses, and a wider echo behind even him, in those resonant tones as they toll.
"Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof . . ."
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him what rings your chimes at email@example.com or follow Knapsack @Twitter.