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Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Sound Of Freedom ...

The following was taken from "Legends of the American Revolution," 1847, by George Lippard ...  

"Let me paint you a picture on the canvass of the Past" ...  

"It is a cloudless summer day. Yes, a clear blue sky arches and smiles above a quaint edifice, rising among giant trees, in the center of a wide city. That edifice is built of red brick, with heavy window frames and a massive hall door. The wide-spreading dome of Saint Peter's , the snowy pillars of the Parthenon, the gloomy glory of Westminster Abbey -- none of these, nor anything like these are here, to elevate this edifice of plain red brick into a gorgeous monument of architecture. Plain red brick walls; the windows partly framed in stone; the roof-eaves heavy with intricate carvings; the hall door ornamented with pillars of dark stone; such is the State House of Philadelphia, in this year of our Lord, 1776. 

Around this edifice stately trees arise. Yonder toward the dark wall of Walnut Street goal, spreads a pleasant lawn, enclosed by a plain board fence. Above our heads, these trees lock their massive limbs and spread their leafy canopy. There are walks here, too, not fashioned in squares or circles, but spreading in careless negligence along the lawn. Benches, too, rude benches, on which repose the forms of old men with gray hairs, and women with babes in their arms.

This is a beautiful day, and this is a pleasant lawn; but why do these clusters of citizens, with anxious faces, gather round the State House walls? There is the merchant in his velvet garb and ruffled shirt; there the Mechanic, with apron on his breast and tools in his hands; there the bearded Sailor and the dark-robed Minister, all grouped together. Why this anxiety on every face? This gathering in little groups all over the lawn? Yet hold a moment! In yonder wooden steeple, which crowns the red brick State House, stands an old man with white hair and sunburnt face. He is clad in humble attire, yet his eye gleams, as it is fixed upon the ponderous outline of the Bell, suspended in the steeple there. The old man tries to read the inscription on that bell, but cannot. Out upon the waves, far away in the forests; thus has his life been passed. He is no scholar, he scarcely can spell one of those strange words carved on the surface of that bell.

By his side, gazing in his face -- that sunburnt face-in wonder, stands a flaxen-haired boy, with laughing eyes of summer blue. "Come here, my boy; you are a rich man's child. You can read. Spell me those words, and I'll bless ye, my good child!" And the child raised himself on tip-toe and pressed his tiny hands against the bell, and read, in lisping tones, these memorable words: "Proclaim Liberty to all the Land and all the inhabitants thereof" ... The old man ponders for a moment on those strange words; then gathering the boy in his arms he speaks, "Look here, my child? Wilt do the old man a kindness? Then hasten you downstairs, and wait in the hall by the big door, until a man shall give you a message for me. A man with a velvet dress and a kind face, will come out from the big door, and give you a word for me. When he gives you that word, then run out yonder in the street, and shout it up to me. Do you mind?" 

It needed no second command. The boy with blue eyes and flaxen hair sprang from the old Bell-keeper's arms, and threaded his way down the dark stairs. The old Bell-keeper was alone. Many minutes passed. Leaning over the railing of the steeple, his face toward Chestnut Street, he looked anxiously for that fair-haired boy. Moments passed, yet still he came not. The crowds gathered more darkly along the pavement and over the lawn, yet still the boy came not.

"Oh," groaned the old man, "he has forgotten me! These old limbs will have to totter down the State House stairs, and climb up again, and all on account of that child--" As the word was on his lips, a merry, ringing laugh broke on the ear. There, among the crowds on the pavement, stood the blue-eyed boy, clapping his tiny hands, while the breeze blew his flaxen hair all about his face. And then, swelling his little chest, he raised himself on tip-toe, and shouted a single word, "Ring!"  

Do you see that old man's eye fire? Do you see that arm so suddenly bared to the shoulder, do you see that withered hand, grasping the iron Tongue of the Bell? The old man is young again; his veins are filled with new life. Backward and forward, with sturdy strokes, he swings the Tongue. The bell speaks out! The crowd in the street hear it, and burst forth in one long shout! Old Delaware hears it, and gives it back in the hurrah of her thousand sailors. The city hears it, and starts up from the desk and work-bench, as though an earthquake had spoken. Yet still while the sweat pours from his brow, that old Bell-keeper hurls the iron tongue, and still -- boom -- boom -- boom -- the Bell speaks to the city and to the world! 

There is a terrible poetry in the sound of that State House Bell at dead of night, when striking it's sudden and solemn -- One! -- It rouses crime from it's task, mirth from it's wine-cup, murder from it's knife, bribery from it's gold. There is a terrible poetry in that sound. It speaks to us like a voice from our youth -- like a knell of God's judgment -- like a solemn yet kind remembrancer of friends, now dead and gone.

There is a terrible poetry in that sound at dead of night; but there was a day when the echo of that Bell awoke a world, slumbering in tyranny and crime!  

Yes, as the old man swung the Iron Tongue, the Bell spoke to all the world. That sound crossed the Atlantic -- pierced the dungeons of Europe -- the work shops of England -- the vassal-fields of France.

That Echo spoke to the slave -- bade him look from his toil -- and know himself a man.

That Echo startled the kings upon their crumbling thrones. 

That Echo was the knell of King-craft, Priest-craft, and all other crafts born of the darkness of ages, and baptized in seas of blood.

Yes, the voice of that little boy, who lifting himself on tip-toe, with his flaxen hair blowing in the breeze, shouted -- "Ring!" -- had a deep and awful meaning in it's tones: Why did that word, "Ring!" -- why did that Echo of the State House Bell speak such deep and awful meaning to the world? Under that very bell, pealing out at noonday, in an old hall, 56 traders, farmers and mechanics had assembled to shake the shackles of the world.

Now let us look in on this band of plain men, met in such solemn council. It is now half an hour previous to the moment when the Bell ringer responded to the shout of the fair-haired boy.

  ... Look over the faces of the 56 men and see every eye turned to the floor. There is silence in this hall -- every voice is hushed -- every face is stamped with a deep and awful responsibility. Why turns every glance to that door?

The Committee of Three, who have been out all night, penning a parchment are about to appear. The parchment, with signatures of these men, written with the pen lying on yonder table will either make a world free -- or stretch these necks upon a gibbet. The door opens -- the Committee appear. The three advance to the table. The Parchment is laid there. Shall it be signed or not?  

Look! How they rush forward!

Look how the names blaze on the parchment!

And now the parchment is signed, and now let word ... go out to all the earth.

Let the Bell speak out the great truth!" 

Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia behind a veil of Congressionally imposed secrecy in June 1776 for a country wracked by military and political uncertainties. In anticipation for a vote for independence, the Continental Congress on June 11 appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston as a committee to draft a declaration of independence. The committee then delegated Thomas Jefferson to undertake the task. Jefferson worked diligently in private for days to compose a document.

Jefferson then made a clean or "fair" copy of the composition declaration, which became the foundation of the document, labeled by Jefferson as the "original Rough draught." Revised first by Adams, then by Franklin, and then by the full committee, a total of forty-seven alterations including the insertion of three complete paragraphs was made on the text before it was presented to Congress on June 28. After voting for independence on July 2, the Congress then continued to refine the document, making thirty-nine additional revisions to the committee draft before it's final adoption on the morning of July 4. The "original Rough draught" embodies the multiplicity of corrections, additions and deletions that were made at each step. Although most of the alterations are in Jefferson's handwriting (Jefferson later indicated the changes he believed to have been made by Adams and Franklin), quite naturally he opposed many of the changes made to his document.

Congress then ordered the Declaration of Independence printed and late on July 4, John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer, produced the first printed text of the Declaration of Independence, now known as the "Dunlap Broadside." The next day John Hancock, the president of the Continental Congress, began dispatching copies of the Declaration to America's political and military leaders. On July 9, George Washington ordered that his personal copy of the "Dunlap Broadside," sent to him by John Hancock on July 6, be read to the assembled American army at New York. In 1783 at war's end, General Washington brought his copy of the broadside home to Mount Vernon - one of only twenty-four known to exist.

On July 19, Congress ordered the production of an engrossed (officially inscribed) copy of the Declaration of Independence, which attending members of the Continental Congress, including some who had not voted for it's adoption, began to sign on August 2, 1776. This document is on permanent display at the National Archives.

Nearly 2 1/3 centuries after it's composition, the Declaration of Independence, just as Jefferson predicted on it's fiftieth anniversary in his letter to Roger C. Weightman, towers aloft as "the signal of arousing men to burst the chains ... to assume the blessings and security of self-government" and to restore "the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion."

I hope you enjoyed this brief reminder of America's history ... my prayer is that all have a glorious and safe Independence Day!

--sja ... with assistance from the Library of Congress