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Coronet, July 1946
How the Liberty Bell Came to AmericaFor more than eighty years, it rang full and
brave to summon free men to the defense of a nation
by HOWARD FASTIT WAS NO ACCIDENT that old Isaac Norris, Speaker of the Assembly in Philadelphia, chose the quotation he did. The Assembly had appropriated money for the State House. Often, when this dignified and elective body adjourned, the members would stroll over to that half-finished building which later came to be called Independence Hall, and stand there watching the carpenters and the bricklayers. Old Isaac would say:
"There is a building coming out of the sweat and toil of free men."
The wood oak and chestnut came from up the Delaware; even most of the bricks were home-kilned now in New Jersey. The old man did not think it impossible that a time would come, in the not too-distant future, when every stick, stone and iron nail for a house like this would be produced on American soil, by American hands.
The architectural plans for this building the fine chamber, clean hallway, and lofty portico were native. At a meeting of the Carpenters' guild, which Norris had attended, leather-aproned workingmen had pledged: "... a grain so fine, so splendid, so smooth as a woman's cheek, for a house wherein a body of liberty will sit ..."
For that reason old Isaac Norris felt uneasy that the bell, which was to hang in the tall tower, would be imported from England. He was no lover of the ways of England. But it was pointed out to him and rightly that the British made good bells. Edward Warner and Thomas Leech, who were on the bell committee with him, stressed it was not so important where the bell was made as how it was made not only for a good tone but to send a message that people would cock their ears to hear.
"Give it a brave verse around the side, and the bell will talk clear."
The committee decided the bell would have to be of such size that its voice could be heard not only in city but in all the countryside thereabouts which was not so difficult, if you consider that in 1751 Philadelphia was only a village of a few thousand souls. Still, the specifications called for a good deal of bell: a cloth yard from lip to crown, and a full 12 feet around the circumference.
"It should give out a clap like thunder," the committee wrote.
But to old Isaac Norris was left the job of finding a verse to make the voice clear and certain. Norris was a scholar, easy in Latin and French as well as English, and it might be that he delved through many scholarly tomes before he took up the Bible. He turned to Leviticus, as any one of his countrymen would have, for in those days they were a freedom-loving, stiff-necked people, and they put more stock in the Book than in the law of the British Empire. From Leviticus, old Isaac Norris chose:
"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof."
It was a motto that met with the approval of plain people, although there were those who lived in fine houses who shook their heads and said it was a little strong, smacking of rebellion and dissatisfaction. But even then, when the bell was just an idea in the heads of the committee of three, people came to speak of it as a "liberty bell."
AFTER SEVERAL meetings the committee brought their plans back to the Assembly, and although a few of that august body swallowed over the motto, Leviticus was so irreproachable that 100 pounds in money was appropriated. The committee, however, drove a hard bargain, and the final cost was only 60 pounds, 14 shillings, 5 pence.