by Tamera Lynn Kraft
The Liberty Bell is a symbol of freedom for the United States. On it is inscribed, “Proclaim Liberty thro’ all the Land to all the Inhabitants thereof.” An interesting fact about the Liberty Bell is that it was procured by Philadelphia long before the colonies were fighting for their independence, and it did not ring on July 4th, 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Origin of the Bell: In 1751, Philadelphia needed a new larger bell to ring when proclamations were made and when citizens needed to be warned of danger. Issac Norris, speaker of the Philadelphia Provincial Assembly contracted with London to have a 2,000 pound bell made. It arrived in August, 1752, but when it rang for the first time, the rim cracked. Two local founders, John Pass and John Stow, recast the bell with their names engraved on it and got it ready to for use in 1753. The bell was used for public meetings and to summon people to church services. In 1772, some complained that the bell rang too often.
Proclamation of Independence: When the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776, there was no public proclamation made, so no bells rang to announce it. The public proclamation was made on July 8th. Many bells rang that day, and although the Liberty Bell was not specifically mentioned, it may have been one of those bells. Bells were also rung to celebrate the one year anniverserary of Independence on July 4th, 1777.
After General Washington’s defeat at the Battle of Brandywine in September, 1777, the bell was removed and hidden below church floorboards in Allentown to keep it from falling into the hands of the British and melted down as munitions. After the British departed, it was returned to Philidelphia in 1778 and placed in storage until 1784 when it was rung again on 4th of July’s, Washington’s birthday, and election days.
The Famous Crack: Nobody knows how the bell was cracked, but in February, 1846, the Public Ledger announced that the bell could not be rung for George Washington’s birthday because of the crack and that the crack had been there for some time. The most common story is the bell cracked in 1835 when it rang during the funeral of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, but in 1837, the bell was used as a symbol for an anti-slavery campaign and the crack wasn’t mentioned.
The Bell’s Name: The bell was first called the Liberty Bell in a New York anti-slavery journal in 1835 when it became a symbol for the abolitionist movement. In 1853, US President Franklin Pierce called the Liberty Bell a symbol of American Revolution and American Liberty. In 1865, after President Lincoln was assasinated, the bell was placed by his head so everyone who passed could read the inscription, “Proclaim Liberty thro’ all the Land to all the Inhabitants thereof.” From that point on, it was always called the Liberty Bell.
In 1876, a committee considered repairing the Liberty Bell for the Centennial Celebration of Independence, but it was decided that the crack was so much a part of the symbol of the bell, it shouldn’t be tampered with. Through the years, the bell traveled to exhibitions until the crack got much worse. Repairs were made, and it was retired to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
The Bell’s Last Toll: The bell was tapped in 1915 and again during World War II on D-Day, VE-Day, and VJ-Day, but it hasn’t been tapped since. Throughout our nation’s history, it has been known a symbol for liberty throughout the land.