George Lippard was much more than a gothic sensationalist novelist. Lippard was also a crusader for issues of social justice. He founded one of the first labor unions in the country. He campaigned tirelessly for workers and minorities. This fervor for the common citizen was probably born of his deep commitment to the ideals of the founding fathers of America. George Lippard was a patriot of the highest order. Even the ruling officers of The Brotherhood of America, the secret benevolent organization he founded, used the titles Supreme Washington, Supreme Jefferson and Supreme Franklin (Lippard, of course, was the Supreme Washington).
Lippard desperately wanted to carry on the best intentions of the men who declared America's independence from England. He also understood that America was a young country and did not have a mythological past that stretched into the mists of a distant past. So he invented the myths of America. In newspaper pieces and then in books, Lippard recounted the legendary exploits of America's early leaders: The Battle-Day of Germantown (1843), Herbert Tracy; or, The Legend of the Black Rangers. A Romance of the Battle-field of Germantown (1844), Blanche of Brandywine (1846), The Rose of Wissahikon; or, The Fourth of July, 1776. A Romance, Embracing the Secret History of the Declaration of Independence (1847).
Most significant was his Washington and His Generals; or, Legends of the Revolution (1847). So powerful were some of the stories in this book that some Americans still perpetuate them. Just a couple months ago there was a piece by Mitch Horowitz on a Washington Post blog about Ronald Reagan's use of one of Lippard's legends. And who as a kid didn't know the story of the Liberty Bell (hey, I grew up in Philly, so I certainly did)? The declaration read out loud to the public on the Fourth of July, the bell ringing out its peals of freedom. Lippard's legend "The Fourth of July, 1776" first published in the Saturday Courier on Jan 2, 1847, then reprinted in Wash and His Gens, has lasted more than a century in the popular imagination. It has truly become one of the legends of America. It's a little too long to be posted here. So you can read an abridged version here. But the whole piece is available at Google Books along with the rest of Wash and His Gens.
Do you see that old man's eye fire? Do you see that arm so suddenlv bared to the shoulder, do you see that withered hand, grasping the Iron Tongue of the Bell? The old man is young again; his veins are filled with new life. Backward and forward, with sturdy strokes, he swings the Tongue. The bell speaks out! The crowd in the street hear it, and burst forth in one long shout! Old Delaware hears it, and gives it back in the hurrah of her thousand sailors. The city hears it, and starts up from desk and work-bench, as though an earthquake had spoken.
Yet still while the sweat pours from his brow, that old Bell-keeper hurls the iron tongue, and still — boom — boom — boom — the Bell speaks to the city and to the world.
Have a happy Lippardian Fourth of July!