Did the Liberty Bell crack as a portent of doom?
The Liberty Bell got its name from being rung July 8, 1776, to call the citizens of Philadelphia together to hear the Declaration of Independence read out loud for the first time.
The Liberty Bell, weighing over 2,000 pounds, was cast in England in August of 1752. The Pennsylvania Assembly ordered it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn founding the Colony in 1701 and writing the Charter of Privileges. In 1751, the colony’s Assembly declared a “Year of Jubilee” and commissioned the bell to be put in the Philadelphia State House.
Isaac Norris, Speaker of Pennsylvania’s Assembly, read Leviticus chapter 25 verse 10: “And ye shall make hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee.”
Inscribed on The Liberty Bell is: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
During the Revolution, as the British were invading Philadelphia in 1777, the Liberty Bell was rushed out of the city to prevent it from being melted down into musket balls. The Liberty Bell was hid in Zion Reformed Church in Allentown till the British departed Philadelphia.
The Liberty Bell was returned to Philadelphia in June of 1778. It was rung every anniversary of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.
The most common story is that the Liberty Bell cracked July 8, 1835, while being rung at the funeral of Chief Justice John Marshall, perhaps as a portent.
John Marshall, the longest-serving Chief Justice, began the trend of increasing the Supreme Court’s power by using an expansive reading of the enumerated powers, thereby advancing the view of the supremacy of the Supreme Court through “judicial review.”
Thomas Jefferson had warned Mr. Hammond, 1821: “The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in … the federal judiciary … working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States.”
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defined “usurp” as: Usurp, verb transitive. [Latin usurpo.] To seize and hold in possession by force or without right; as, to usurp a throne; to usurp the prerogatives of the crown; to usurp power. To usurp the right of a patron, is to oust or dispossess him. Vice sometimes usurps the place of virtue.”
Thomas Jefferson explained to Supreme Court Justice William Johnson, June 12, 1823: “On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
James Madison wrote to Henry Lee, June 25, 1824: “I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that be not the guide in expounding it, there can be no security for a consistent and stable … exercise of its powers. … What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense.”
The Liberty Bell was popularized by the New York Anti-Slavery Society’s journal, Anti-Slavery Record. In 1839, Boston’s abolitionist society Friends of Liberty titled their journal “The Liberty Bell.” Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery publication the Liberator helped promote the Liberty Bell as an symbol to fight slavery in the Democrat South.
At the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge stated: “People at home and abroad consider Independence Hall as hallowed ground and revere the Liberty Bell as a sacred relic. That pile of bricks and mortar, that mass of metal, might appear as only the outgrown meeting place and the shattered bell. … But to those who know, they have become consecrated. They are the framework of a spiritual event. The world looks upon them because of their associations of 150 years ago, as it looks upon the Holy Land because of what took place there nineteen hundred years ago.”
Coolidge added: “The American Revolution represented the … convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them. …”
President Coolidge explained further: “In the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. … The principles … which went into the Declaration of Independence … are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writing of the early colonial clergy. … They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image. … Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government. … In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations with their pastors had migrated to the colonies. …”
Coolidge added: “In its main feature the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man – these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world.”
Sir William Blackstone wrote in “Commentaries on the Laws of England” (1765-1769), which was the definitive pre-Revolutionary source of common law by United States courts: “Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty; for if once it were left in the power of any the highest magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper … there would soon be an end of all other rights.”
Coolidge concluded his address: “Unless the faith of the American in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.”
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