The Pennsylvania Assembly ordered the Bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania’s original Constitution. It speaks of the rights and freedoms valued by people the world over. Particularly forward thinking were Penn’s ideas on religious freedom, his liberal stance on Native American rights, and his inclusion of citizens in enacting laws.
As the Bell was created to commemorate the golden anniversary of Penn’s Charter, the quotation “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” from Leviticus 25:10, was particularly apt. For the line in the Bible immediately preceding “proclaim liberty” is, “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year.” What better way to pay homage to Penn and hallow the 50th year than with a bell proclaiming liberty?
Also inscribed on the Bell is the quotation, “By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pensylvania for the State House in Philada.” Note that the spelling of “Pennsylvania” was not at that time universally adopted. In fact, in the original Constitution, the name of the state is also spelled “Pensylvania.” If you get a chance to visit the second floor of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, take a moment to look at the original maps on the wall. They, too, have the state name spelled “Pensylvania” (and the Atlantic Ocean called by the name of that day, “The Western Ocean”). The choice of the quotation was made by Quaker Isaac Norris, speaker of the Assembly.
Centered on the front of the Bell are the words, “Pass and Stow / Philada / MDCCLIII.” We’ll get to Pass and Stow in a bit.
Bell as Symbol
After the divisive Civil War, Americans sought a symbol of unity. The flag became one such symbol, and the Liberty Bell another. To help heal the wounds of the war, the Liberty Bell would travel across the country.
Starting in the 1880s, the Bell traveled to cities throughout the land “proclaiming liberty” and inspiring the cause of freedom. We have prepared a photo essay of its 1915 journey to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.
A replica of the Liberty Bell, forged in 1915, was used to promote women’s suffrage. It traveled the country with its clapper chained to its side, silent until women won the right to vote. On September 25, 1920, it was brought to Independence Hall and rung in ceremonies celebrating the ratification of the 19th amendment.
To this day, oppressed groups come to Philadelphia to give voice to their plight, at the Liberty Bell, proclaiming their call for liberty.
History of the Bell
On November 1, 1751, a letter was sent to Robert Charles, the Colonial Agent of the Province of Pennsylvania who was working in London. Signed by Isaac Norris, Thomas Leech, and Edward Warner, it represented the desires of the Assembly to purchase a bell for the State House (now Independence Hall) steeple. The bell was ordered from Whitechapel Foundry, with instructions to inscribe on it the passage from Leviticus.
The bell arrived in Philadelphia on September 1, 1752, but was not hung until March 10, 1753, on which day Isaac Norris wrote, “I had the mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other viollence [sic] as it was hung up to try the sound.”
Two Philadelphia foundry workers named John Pass and John Stow were given the cracked bell to be melted down and recast. They added an ounce and a half of copper to a pound of the old bell in an attempt to make the new bell less brittle. For their labors they charged slightly over 36 Pounds. More
Liberty Bell Center