Skip to main content

Franklin And The Bell

April 2024
1min read

The article in our June issue on the crack in the Liberty Bell (“Whose Fault Was It?”) brought an interesting comment from John Hinshaw, president of the Chatham Press, which last month published a book called Ring In the Jubilee: The Epic of America’s Liberty Bell , by Charles Michael Boland. Mr. Hinshaw observes, first of all, that the misspelling of the word “Pennsylvania” in the bell’s inscription must be charged to Isaac Norris, speaker of the Assembly of the colony, who made the same error in the original order for the bell sent to London in 1751. Furthermore, according to the new book, the bell’s famous motto from Leviticus was probably not chosen by Norris, a solid, unimaginative citizen, but by his good friend Benjamin Franklin—already in 175 la notable member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. That was the year of the fiftieth anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, which, as Franklin observed in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette , had brought the colony a period of “vast improvement … Orpheus is said to have built a city by his music … but the sweetest of all sounds is LIBERTY ; and wholesome Laws with good Government make the most enchanting HARMONY .” It was also the year in which Franklin first made his radical proposal of a union of the American colonies: “… a voluntaryUnion entered into by the Colonies themselves, I think, would be preferable to one imposed by Parliament.” When such ideas as these are compared with the quotation on the bell and its context in Leviticus, says Mr. Hinshaw, the likelihood of Franklin as selector of the inscription becomes convincing, even in the absence of hard historical evidence. “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year,” Verse 10 of Leviticus 25 reads, “and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you.…” (The added italics indicate the part of the quotation that appears on the bell.)

If Ben Franklin went to heaven, as he often said he hoped he would, he must have looked down with peculiar satisfaction upon the ultimate celebrity of the bell as a symbol of American independence and unity.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate