Promises of the Constitution: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
by Pamela Romney Openshaw, pp. 62-63.
3.12 Ringing For Liberty
When the Declaration of Independence was announced, bells rang throughout the thirteen colonies as word was carried abroad. A huge bronze bell, now known as the Liberty Bell, hung on the Philadelphia State House, the scene of the signing. It first announced the breathtaking news that a new and independent country had been born.
Its elderly keeper was charged with ringing the bell for prominent funerals, elections, and state occasions. As the story is told, he employed the help of his young grandson on the day the Declaration of Independence was signed.
The following poem relates the anticipation of the people and their rejoicing when independence was announced:
There was tumult in the city, in the quaint old Quaker town,
And the streets were rife with people, pacing restless up and down;
People gathering at corners, where they whispered each to each,
And the sweat stood on their temples, with the earnestness of speech.
“Will they do it? Dare they do it? Who is speaking? What’s the news?”
“What of Adams? What of Sherman? Oh, God grant they won’t refuse!”
“Make some way, there! Let me nearer! I am stifling!” “Stifle, then!
When a nation’s life’s at hazard, we’ve no time to think of men!”
So they beat against the portal, man and woman, maid and child;
And the July sun in heaven on the scene looked down and smiled.
The same sun that saw the Spartan shed his patriot blood in vain,
Now beheld the soul of freedom all unconquer’d rise again.
See! See! The dense crowd quivers through all the lengthy line,
As the boy beside the portal looks forth to give the sign!
With his small hands upward lifted, breezes dallying with his hair,
Hark! With deep clean intonation, breaks his young voice on the air.
Hushed the people’s swelling murmur, list the boy’s exultant cry!
“Ring,” he shouts, “Ring, Grandpa, ring, oh, ring for liberty!”
And straightway at the signal, the old bellman lifts his hand,
And sends the good news, making iron music through the land.
How they shouted! What rejoicing! How the old bell shook the air,
Till the clang of freedom ruffled the calm, gliding Delaware!
How the bonfires and the torches illumed the night’s repose,
And from . . . flames like fabled Phoenix our glorious Liberty arose!
That old bell now is silent, and hushed its iron tongue,
But the spirit it awakened, still lives—forever young.
And when we greet the smiling sunlight, on the fourth of each July,
We’ll ne’er forget the bellman, who twixt the earth and sky,
Rang out our Independence, which, please God, shall never die!
The Liberty Bell cracked fifty-nine years later while being rung to commemorate the funeral of John Marshall, fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court and signer of the Declaration of Independence. It stands today near Independence Hall in Philadelphia, a testament to the love of liberty that burns in the hearts of all American patriots.