It cracked on its very first test ring in 1751, causing the metalworkers to melt it down and cast a new one. And after then putting it up in the State House, they rang it to round up lawmakers for their sessions, as well as to gather citizens to hear the news. Benjamin Franklin, in fact, once wrote a friend saying, “Adieu, the Bell rings, and I must go among the Grave ones and talk Politicks.” By the 1840’s, however, its regular use caused a narrow split to develop in the bell, leading repairmen to widen that crack to try to prevent its farther spread.
Unfortunately, that repair did not quite work as planned, and when another fissure developed, this one running up from the abbreviation for “Philadelphia” to the word “Liberty” itself, that pretty much silenced the bell forever. In fact, although thousands come to look at it each year, no one alive today has ever actually heard the famous bell peel at all. You can still see the inscription from Leviticus 25.10, though, a reference to the Old Testament idea of a jubilee: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.”
As we come to another Independence Day celebration this week, thus, it’s well worth remembering not just the origins of our country, but what many saw as God’s divine purpose for it. For the real sound of independence always comes not from a clapper in a cast bell but from the chorus of grateful voices of those who have understood the cost of freedom and all who have paid that price over the years.
Even if the bell itself is not exactly all that it’s cracked up to be.