After our tour of the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed, we crossed over to the courthouse directly opposite. This once served as the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The setting was like any present day courtroom with one notable exception, the iron cage. What was that? What was it used for? I was curious to find out.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was once housed in Independence Hall when it was built as the Pennsylvania State House in 1732. And I was standing in that very room. The period-piece furniture is arranged as it was in colonial times. Three chairs for the judges are visible on a raised dais separated from the rest of the court. A golden statue of Lady Justice holding a balance and drawn sword is seen above. In front, there are chairs and tables for the recording clerk and attorneys. To the right, the jury box, to the left a spot for spectators and family members. So far, so good. But, in front is a cage-like enclosure with iron bars where the accused had to stand throughout the entire proceedings. He could be questioned and he would have had to answer. He was referred to as the “accused.”
Our jurisprudence has evolved with time. We hold dear the doctrine that a man “is innocent until proven guilty.” Hence, we use the term “defendant,” not “accused.” The defendant is represented by his legal counsel. He sits with them. He does not stand in a cage. He may refuse to answer any questions if he so chooses. He cannot be forced to testify against himself so as not to self-incriminate. This is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to our constitution. The visuals of the recent, much publicized trial of a Minneapolis police officer went through my mind. The differences between then and now were eloquently described by the ranger on duty, the gentleman in the photograph. He really brought to life the atmosphere in the court room at the dawn of our republic.
He also mentioned that before independence the coat of arms of Great Britain (the lion and the unicorn) was prominently displayed on the wall behind the judges. This was torn down and replaced with the coat of arms of Pennsylvania after independence. He was good enough to hold the picture while I took the photo.
I let all the history around me sink in for a few more minutes, exited Independence Hall through the front gate and walked over to the Liberty Bell just across the street. It is in a large room with glass sides. There was a long line in front. A sign said it would take 90 minutes to enter from that point. I looked up. The sun was very bright and warm. I had just spent a fair amount of time walking around Independence Hall and did not want to stand in line for another hour and a half. Mercifully, there is a large window on the park side close to the bell through which I could get a very good view. I took a few pictures.
The history of the Liberty Bell is well known. Centuries ago, in towns across Europe and America, bells were rung to announce momentous occasions. As Philadelphia grew in size and importance the necessity was felt for a large, centrally located bell. Several were commissioned but failed to live up to expectations. The current Liberty Bell weighing nearly a ton was cast by Past and Stow and hung in the bell tower of Independence Hall in 1753. It was rung on July 8, 1776 to bring citizens together for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. But, with time, cracks began to appear. Several repairs were attempted. The large gash that is so iconic is man-made. It was an attempt to prevent the sides from rubbing together when the bell rang. The bell was probably rung for the last time on Washington’s birthday in 1846. A new hairline crack appeared. This was in such a critical position that the Bell was silenced forever. Ironically, the fatal hairline fracture seems minor compared to the large repair gash. The Bell was later brought to its present location, a much viewed symbol to, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the land, Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.”
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