Patriotic Etiquette at the Liberty Bell — 1919 edition

“Philadelphia Paying Tribute to Its Soldier Sons,” Broad and Spring Garden Streets, May 15, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

After the conclusion of what would become known as World War I, mandatory visits to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell provide us, a century later, with a laboratory of contrasting and complementary patriotic practices.

May 15, 1919: Eight miles of the “khakied legions” and their “forests of bayonets” march in celebration throughout the city. On Broad Street and the new Parkway, “bands blared their music, cheerleaders awakened the stands to fresher and more frequent tumult, while songs burst upon the air, like some festival prepared for a Roman general back from his journey of conquest into other lands.”

At Independence Hall the spirit of celebration turned serious. If ever there was a ground zero for understated expressions on behalf of American Freedom, Liberty and Independence, it was Independence Hall, and more particularly, at the Liberty Bell. “While the cheering and the tumult multiplied in many places,” here it was “chained by a somber realization that silence could best pay tribute…” For this special day, the Liberty Bell was brought into the sunlight of Chestnut Street where all those who passed could feel its powerful, mute presence.

Liberty Bell outside Independence Hall, May 15, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

July 4, 1919: The first peacetime Fourth offered another opportunity to celebrate American victory with song, dance, speeches and other patriotic displays. This time, the Liberty Bell is carried out to Independence Square “and placed on a pedestal banked with ferns and potted plants.”  If it wasn’t for the blazing sun and extreme heat, the event would have attracted more than 100,000. Only “meager thousands” turned out for the traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence and what came after.

In an unscheduled speech, Judge John M. Patterson, a candidate for Mayor, took over the podium. He described the Liberty Bell, as “the holiest relic in the world.” Then the earnest, unctuous Patterson, who would lose his mayoral bid, took a right turn away from the usual  somber, bell-based patriotic etiquette.

“The bell could proclaim to the Bolshevists today that America is a land of law and order,” Patterson declared.  And “as long as we have religion and patriotism, the red flag of anarchy will never oust the flag of the United States. Let the churches see that every member of their congregations is an American in deed as well as in word, and if he is not, then let him be an outcast from the Church as he is from the Nation. We can array good people against the bad and blot out this menace. Let the Bolshevists and those who rail at our laws and liberties understand that if they don’t like this country and the way its government is administered then the best thing they can do is go to some place that does suit them.”

General Pershing at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall September 12, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

When Patterson stepped down, Iowa Congressman James W. Good, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, replaced him at the podium and continued. “There is no room in America for any flag but the flag of America and your duty and mine in this country, in times of peace as well as in times of war, is to obey the law and pay obedience and reverence to the flag of the United States. There is no place in America for the Red flag. It means the destruction of all that our civilization represents.”

September 12, 1919: General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front returns. He visits the Bell and the Hall and re-focuses with silence and somber tones after a welcome by Mayor Thomas B. Smith. “We stand on holy ground, General Pershing,” says the mayor. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence signed it within these four walls. This is the home of the Liberty Bell, loved by one hundred million free people.”

The General walks up to the Bell, ensconced and decorated for the occasion “mute but glorious in its cradle. . . . Unconscious of the shouts and the cheers, or the interruption of the photographers’ flash lights, the soldier stood there, silent before the venerable relic of the days when liberty was first proclaimed throughout the land. With head bared and eyes softened, the man who had led the great army overseas to carry to victory the armed purpose that sprang to life in this historic shrine, riveted his eyes upon the Bell.”

“For several moments he stood tense, and then his eyes roved over the symbol of freedom, and he seemed to be pondering in his mind if his stewardship were worthy of the traditions which the Bell conjured to his mind. Then, bending low, as if to press his lips to the Bell, he saluted paused for a moment and then walked out to address the throng.”

Pershing had an adoring crowd. By the time he made his way to Broad Street, “the sidewalks were jammed with great masses of cheering people.”

Pershing briefly toyed with the idea of running for public office. He never did.

[Sources: “Commonwealth and City Pay Magnificent Tribute to Valorous Sons Who Risked All in Liberty’s Cause.” The Inquirer, May 16, 1919; “Wide Celebration of First Peace 4th Held In This City,” The Inquirer, July 5, 1919; “City Will Accord Big Welcome Today To Gen. Pershing,” The Inquirer, September 12, 1919; “General Acclaimed By Thousands Here In Epochal Visit,” The Inquirer, September 13, 1919.]

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