The Liberty Bell: Facts & History

Instructor: Deanna Reid

Deanna has taught at the elementary and middle school level and has a Master's degree in Elementary Education K-8.

What is the Liberty Bell? Where did it come from? What is its historical significance? In this lesson, we will answer these questions and more regarding the Liberty Bell, a symbol of American patriotism.

The History of the Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell

Where do you find the famous words 'Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof?' These words are found in two famous places: inscribed upon the Liberty Bell and in Leviticus 25:10 in the Christian Bible.

How is this biblical quote related to the Liberty Bell? This bible verse refers to the Jubilee, or a sacred time for Israel that occurred every 50 years which declared freedom from slavery and debt throughout the land and restoration of family lands. Isaac Norris, the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House in 1751, was believed to have chosen this verse in reference to the 50th anniversary of the historically-significant Charter of Privileges which guaranteed the people of Pennsylvania religious freedom and the right of self-governance.

In 1751, the Pennsylvania legislature ordered a bell from England to place in the State House (which later came to be known as Independence Hall) to ring across Philadelphia to announce meetings of the government and to signify important events. It was not referred to as the Liberty Bell at that time, but was simply used as a method of communication. After its arrival in America in 1753, the bell cracked the first time it rang. Two local artisans, John Pass and John Stow, melted down the bell and recast it.

For What Did the Bell Toll?

Ringing the Liberty Bell for American Independence
Bellringer ringing the Liberty Bell upon being told of American independence

Aside from signifying legislative meetings, the bell rang for some significant events in early American history. The bell tolled when:

  • Ben Franklin was sent to England in 1757 to present colonial grievances.
  • King George III was crowned in 1760.
  • Paul Revere made his famous ride to spread the word that the British were advancing on April 18, 1775.
  • The Declaration of Independence was read on July 8, 1776.
  • It rang in honor of Chief Justice John Marshall, who died on July 6, 1835.

The Crack in the Liberty Bell

Historians differ on when the Liberty Bell actually received its signature crack, rendering it unusable. A common belief is that it first cracked on July 8, 1835, when it was rung for the funeral procession of Chief Supreme Court Justice John Marshall passed through Philadelphia. Some historians, however, credit the crack to the bell's use in 1846 while commemorating George Washington's birthday. The bell was then retired due to the damage.

Liberty and the Bell

How did this bell, designed for a simple government building, become a symbol of freedom and liberty? It began its ascent to becoming an iconic American emblem when Abolitionists in the 1830s referenced the bell and its famous inscription regarding freedom and liberty in their anti-slavery tracts and other publications. It was during this anti-slavery campaign that it gained its permanent title of honor: the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell and its physical representation of freedom was then used in the Women's Suffrage movement by Susan B. Anthony and other female suffragettes, or women seeking the right to vote through organized protests.

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