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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 9-30-22 – A Nation Born of Immigrants and Revolutionists

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about who we are as a nation, where we came from and what we do with this grand experiment in self-governance. We all have a civic responsibility. It was on my mind this week on the 245th Anniversary of the hiding of the Liberty Bell in Allentown PA under Zion Church and the 60th Anniversary of the Liberty Bell Museum. I was honored to participate as the “youth participant” and direct descendant of John Jacob Mickley who hid the Bell in that church in my hometown and preserved our greatest symbol of freedom for all future generations.

That connection to history always meant a lot to me. I recall sitting at the kitchen table as a 9-year-old and asking if anyone in our lineage had ever done anything notable. I learned we are descended from patriots. Mickley, a farmer and a soldier who, with his young son risked their lives to hide the Liberty Bell from the British in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. In 1976 I took part in the US Bicentennial reenactment of that event. I was around the same age as his son during the hiding of the Bell. It may be that the lesson I learned out of that is that it is important to do the right thing even if it is hard or dangerous as did my ancestor. A powerful example for us now.

It was quite an event on Sunday. Other speakers reminded us that on August 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King addressed more than a quarter million people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in the historic March on Washington, he used the words “Let Freedom Ring” a reference to the Bell. Another speaker talked about how the suffragist movement and how they made a replica of the Bell called the Justice bell, or the Women’s Liberty Bell and the Suffrage Bell which by Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger in 1915. After production, the bell was mounted on the bed of a pick-up truck and taken on a driving tour to all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. They gave us the 19th Amendment in 1920.

I wanted to share what I said at the celebration of the Liberty Bell Museum Anniversary last Sunday. I mentioned that dinner conversation when I was 9 and learning about our family’s connection to an American Patriot. I recounted my recollection of that day in September 1976 at age 11. I recall riding on the Bell wagon through the streets of South Bethlehem past all these communities who had come to our nation to build a better life for their families. People waving the American flag and celebrating the historic event, together. I rode through the Hungarian community and past the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society and the stacks of the Bethlehem Steel Co. belching smoke and what it meant to all of our families. I spoke about knowing what I was seeing even at 11. I understood even then what we were going through in this country at that time. We just came through Vietnam and Watergate and there was tremendous economic pain. We still came together to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our nation and to build a better future despite those challenges. Those times and our times are similar. We must now celebrate our common cause and find ground to build a future upon. My words on Sunday were heartfelt and shaped in no small part by the inspiration of those who came before us.

We have also long had a deep pessimistic streak in our national identity. It may even be the case that this facet of the American experience is paradoxically a cause for optimism. I am old enough to know that we have long experienced such crises of who and what we are and where we are going. Perhaps the quote I have pulled out the most over the years is that of Winston Churchill who once remarked “The United States can always be relied upon to do the right thing — having first exhausted all possible alternatives.” Leave it to a Brit to define us.

I think that the above Churchill quote resonates with me as it has a certain ring of truth. We nearly lost our revolution as Congress squabbled about paying the troops who were freezing to death at Valley Forge. We nearly lost the Civil War because of strategic command and control confusion. We are a less than perfect people with a really messy political process. So far, we have always managed to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat, often at the last minute because despite all of our flaws, we do have a system of self-governance with strong checks and balances on ego and avarice, the seeds of destruction for any form of government. Such processes are messy, and ours is perhaps the worst form of government except for all the other options.

I was grateful to be part of the Liberty Bell Museum 60th anniversary celebrations. I met a lot of patriotic people at the event invested in our community and our country. It made me hopeful for the future. What is the next chapter in our grand experiment? I am not sure, but I do know that we have survived tough times in the past. Perhaps we should be planning a robust US Semi-Quincentennial celebration to remind us that we are all descended from immigrants and revolutionist. I for one am grateful for their blood in my veins.

What are you grateful for today?

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