The Crack in The Bell

July 4th has been celebrated by US folks in Panama since the days of the US Panama Canal, so it’s nothing new for Panamanians.  If anything they feel sorry for us having only one Independence Day when they have two days off (Independence from Spain and Independence from Colombia).

These US holidays are always strange for a US citizen living abroad.   A lot of US expats gather for the same style celebrations  – BBQ, hot dogs, hamburgers, water melon and beer, lots of beer.

One of the most valuable things I learned in 21 years of post-high school  academic studies, I learned in seminary.  “History as a living fact consists not so much in what actually happened, as in what people believe to have happened.”

Take the liberty bell and its famous crack, which a lot of people think cracked because it was rung so hard celebrating US Independence.  Here’s a crash course, probably not authorized by the Philadelphia Tourist Board . . .

The Liberty Bell is an iconic symbol of American independence, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formerly placed in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (now renamed Independence Hall), the bell was commissioned from the London firm of Lester and Pack (today the Whitechapel Bell Foundry) in 1752, and was cast with the lettering (part of Leviticus 25:10) “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” It originally cracked when first rung after arrival in Philadelphia, and was twice recast by local workmen John Pass and John Stow, whose last names appear on the bell. In its early years, the Liberty Bell was used to summon lawmakers to legislative sessions and to alert citizens to public meetings and proclamations.

No immediate announcement was made of the Second Continental Congress’s vote for independence, and thus the bell could not have rung on July 4, 1776, at least not for any reason related to that vote. Bells were rung to mark the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776, and while there is no contemporary account of the Liberty Bell ringing, most historians believe it was one of the bells rung. After American independence was secured, it fell into relative obscurity for some years. In the 1830s, the bell was adopted as a symbol by abolitionist societies, who dubbed it the “Liberty Bell.” It acquired its distinctive large crack sometime in the early 19th century—a widespread story claims it cracked while ringing after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1835.

The bell became famous after an 1847 short story claimed that an aged bell-ringer rang it on July 4, 1776, upon hearing of the Second Continental Congress’s vote for independence. Despite the fact that the bell did not ring for independence on that July 4, the tale was widely accepted as fact, even by some historians. [Wikipedia]

Even with working to finish Boca Chica before Nikki comes home from Seattle, I do find a few minutes each day to sit in my hot tub and read. I’ve been reading Steve Martini’s SHADOW OF POWER. It’s typical paper-back-escape-thriller-mystery-court-drama, but he’s a good writer and I enjoy reading his novels. And sometimes he manages to weave in some of his own opinions, like this which seemed particularly appropriate as the US celebrates July 4th.

The framers of the Constitution may have been brilliant, but they weren’t perfect.

They lived in another age – lawyers, merchants, and gentlemen farmers – amateur politicians all. For their time the concepts they introduced were radical, but they were not unrestrained. The preamble may have been orchestrated for “We the People,” but the fine print kept the common fingers off the piano keys.

The founders were men of property, in an age when only men who owned property could vote. The concept of common suffrage, to say nothing of women voting, was alien to them, something they would have rebelled against as vigorously as they fought the British Empire.

Campaigning for election to office was an act of personal dishonor.

They could not conceive of their experiment falling into the hands of full-time politicians steered by armies of consultants, forming committees to suck millions in “donations” from those seeking favor from government; permanent officeholders who would wield the levers of power with the partisan ruthlessness of warlords.

A Congress routinely hijacking essential national legislation just to load it with amendments like tumors, hauling pork back to their districts to solidify their death grip on power – this would have been as alien to them as E.T.

When Lincoln sat in Congress for his single term beginning in 1847, he considered himself lucky to have a desk with a drawer for his private papers and the privilege to borrow a book from time to time from the Library of Congress.

Only the insane of the eighteenth century could foresee that a bleak two lines added to the Constitution a century after its creation, authorizing the collection of a federal income tax, could result in a seventy-year rampage by government to mentally rape its own citizens with millions of pages of totally unintelligible tax laws, rules, regulations and forms.

Today we have special federal tax courts because the law is too so convoluted that ordinary federal judges are presumed too ignorant and unschooled to understand the complexities of laws and forms that every citizen down to the village janitor is required to understand, to obey, and to sign under penalty of perjury and threat of imprisonment.

Nor could it be possible in the Age of Reason to foresee a Social Security system that if run by a private business would result in their arrest, prosecution, and conviction for operating a Ponzi scheme. In the real world, taking invested funds in the form of Social Security taxes, paying current claims, and skimming the rest for other purposes is called embezzlement. When government does it, it is simply called politics. In either case the arithmetic is always the same. When the scheme goes belly-up, its operators, if they’re smart, will be in Brazil, or, in the case of Congress, retired, which is the political equivalent of being in Brazil.

With all of this, the people in what is touted as the greatest democracy on the planet have no effective recourse. They cannot directly fix any of the obvious open sores or seeping wounds in their own government, because the founders didn’t trust them with the only effective medicine, the power to amend their own Constitution. That is reserved for the serpent its creators never saw.

Short of revolution, something Jefferson urged take place at least every twenty years, the average citizen is left to pound sand by casting a largely empty vote to replace the devil-in-office with the devil-in-waiting and hope that the caustic nature of power to corrupt can somehow be neutralized.

Praying for the devil to grow a halo, we all plod on, one foot in front of the other, trusting that somehow we will not follow the Soviet Union over the national cliff.
[Steve Martini, SHADOW OF POWER, New York, HarperCollins, 2008]

It is not only the Liberty Bell that is cracked.

Great civilizations come . . . and go. Nothing lasts forever, particularly if it is not protected and cared for. So Happy 4th of July. If the picnic didn’t give you indigestion the State of the Union should.

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