Spirit of Liberty Bell

In 2001, Providence Forum sponsored the making of a new liberty bell, named the “Spirit of Liberty Bell”, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of William Penn’s revolutionary document, the Charter of Privileges. Why would anyone care about a 300 year old Charter enough to craft a new Liberty Bell replica to celebrate it?

Called the American Magna Carta of religious liberty, William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, adopted on October 28, 1701 gave to the new world a great liberty – the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience. The Charter begins with these sweeping words unparalleled in the world at the time of Penn:

I the said William Penn doe Declare Grant and Confirme… Because noe people can be truly happy … if Abridged of the Freedom of theire Consciences as to theire Religious Profession and worship….I doe hereby Grant and Declare that noe person or persons Inhabiting in this Province or Territories who shall Confesse and Acknowledge one Almighty God the Creator upholder and Ruler of the world and professe him or themselves Obliged to live quietly under the Civill Government shall be in any case molested or prejudiced in his or theire person or Estate because of his or theire Conscientious perswasion or practice nor be compelled to frequent or mentaine any Religious Worship place or Ministry contrary to his or theire mind or doe or Suffer any other act or thing contrary to theire Religious perswasion. And that all persons who also professe to believe in Jesus Christ the Savior of the world shall be capable (notwithstanding theire other perswasions and practices in point of Conscience and Religion) to Serve this Governement in any capacity both Legislatively and Executively. . . .

Penn was so concerned that these liberties would not be lost in future generations, that he returned to them at the conclusion of his Charter:

But because the happiness of Mankind Depends So much upon the Enjoying of Libertie of theire Consciences as aforesaid I Doe hereby Solemnly Declare Promise and Grant for me my heires and Assignes that the first Article of this Charter Relateing to Liberty of Conscience and every part and Clause therein according to the True Intent and meaneing thereof shall be kept and remaine without any Alteration Inviolably for ever…

The Original Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell was ordered on November 1, 1751 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter. The quotation used for the Bell was from Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” and was chosen in part because the verse preceding it states “and ye shall hallow the fiftieth year”.

Cast in London, England at the Whitechapel Foundry, the State House Bell, as it was originally called, cracked soon after its arrival. Local craftsmen John Pass and John Stow broke apart the first bell and cast another in 1753, using metal from the English bell. Unhappy with the sound of this second bell, Pass & Stow hurriedly broke the bell apart and cast yet a third bell. This is the Liberty Bell that we have today. Known by various names throughout its early history, the first reference to the Bell as the Liberty Bell came in 1839 when the abolitionists adopted it as a symbol of their cause in their fight against slavery.

The Bell was rung for many special occasions, as when Benjamin Franklin was sent to England to address Colonial grievances in 1757. It tolled when King George III ascended to the throne in 1761. It tolled numerous times to call together the people of Philadelphia to discuss the acts of the Crown against the new colonies. While accounts differ, tradition has it that the Bell first cracked while tolling the news of the death of Chief Justice John Marshall on July 8, 1835. Rung infrequently thereafter, the Bell was called back into service in 1846 to celebrate the anniversary of Washington’s Birthday. Midday, a compound fracture put the Bell “completely out of tune” and thus on February 22, 1846 the Liberty Bell rang its last note.

The Spirit of Liberty Bell

In honor of the 300 year anniversary of William Penn’s Charter and the religious liberty it ushered into the American experience, the Providence Forum had a full-sized replica of the Liberty Bell made by Whitechapel Foundry. The bell has an etched crack, allowing it to ring in its original tone. The bell inscription states that it was ordered in commemoration of 300 years of religious liberty in America and will be used as a stationary and mobile object lesson on the history and heritage of American religious liberty for children and adults. The yoke, originally of slippery elm, incorporates wood from the last of the 13 original Liberty Trees.

Where is the Spirit of Liberty Bell now?

On January 12, 2016, the Spirit of Liberty Bell was transferred to the curator of the Museum of the Bible, (www.museumofthebible.org) scheduled to open in Washington DC in the Fall of 2017. “The eight-story, 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible will invite all people to engage with the Bible via a scholarly and engaging presentation of the book that has shaped modern culture like no other.” It is anticipated that the bell will be the centerpiece of the Museum’s ” Bible in America” exhibit. The transfer took place at the Williamson College of the Trades (www.williamson.edu), which had generously housed the bell on campus when it was not traveling or on exhibit.

Unloading Spirit of Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

Since its arrival in America in 2001, the Providence Forum has ushered the bell across the United States as a stationary and mobile object lesson for children and adults on the history and heritage of American liberty . It has visited schools, military bases, historic sites and celebrations, museums, and churches from New York to Florida to California, and even the Super Bowl. It has been rung thousands of times, and it’s long deep reverberations are a reminder of our nation’s unique history of liberty and freedom, created and fought for by our nation’s founders and leaders.

The Museum of the Bible expressed their excitement and gratitude for this gift, saying “May this bell continue to inspire visitors at the museum to ‘Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof’ Leviticus 25:10.”

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