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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The Growth of a Symbol

The following quotations demonstrate the symbolic importance of the Liberty Bell.

James Silk Buckingham visited Philadelphia around 1840 when the bellís reputation as a relic of the American Revolution was beginning to grow.

This bell [the Liberty Bell] though no longer used for general purposes, still occupied the place in which it was originally hung, and, like the great bell of St. Paulís in London, used on special occasions such as the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and visits of distinguished visitors such as Lafayette...it will no doubt be preserved as a national treasure.
--James Silk Buckingham, American Historical, Statistic and Descriptive, London, 1841

Preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence led to a resurgence of interest in the American Revolution and in the Liberty Bell.

This is true, there appears to have been no first jubilee to all the inhabitants on our fiftieth anniversary--too many millions of our inhabitants were then in slavery--we then could not fully carry out the text and proclaim liberty to all. But now upon the second fiftieth year we are able to do so. Cracked and shattered as the bell may be, the base upon which that motto is cast remains firm and solid, and shaken has our country been with the din of battle and bloody strife, that principle remains pure and perfect for all time to come and the whole text, Liberty Jubilee, will be literally carried out in 1876. ĎLiberty can now be proclaimed throu [sic] all the land to all inhabitants thereof.í
--John Shoemaker, Chairman of the Philadelphia Centennial Committee, in "The Centennial," Philadelphia, 1873

In the early 20th century there was a debate about the advantages and potential problems of allowing the Liberty Bell to travel the country by rail.

The Liberty Bell is undoubtedly of most interest--for those that can see it there at home in Philadelphia, where it made its never to be forgotten announcement that a new nation had been born....But even in Philadelphia, the bell is only near, not in, its original station, and it can go further afield to teach its lessons of history and patriotism....Wherever displayed it will set people, and especially young people, to thinking and studying in a way that cannot have other than good results. The chances that the bell may be lost on one of its journeys or actually destroyed in a railway accident are so few as to be negligible.
--"Everybody Should See the Bell," New York Times, February 17, 1909

Katherine Ruschenberger purchased a replica of the Liberty Bell called the "Womenís Liberty Bell" or "Justice Bell" to promote the womenís suffrage movement. The bellís clapper was chained so that it could not be rung. The chain was to be removed when women gained the right to vote. The Justice Bell was rung for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919.

The original Liberty Bell announced the creation of democracy, the Womenís Liberty Bell will announce the completion of democracy.
--Mrs. Katherine Ruschenberger, "Suffrage Liberty Bell," New York Times, March 31, 1915

Philadelphia officials considered moving the bell to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for safekeeping during World War II.

But while American morale is of the best, while American patriotism burns bright, it still is good to have within view this evidence of the struggle of America for liberty. It will be an inspirational shrine. It will comfort those who may weaken during the struggle. It will be a constant reminder of the great American heritage of one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
--Editorial, "The Grand Old Bell," Natchez, Mississippi Democrat, December 28, 1941

Civil rights protestors claimed they chose the Liberty Bell as their symbol because of its association with American freedoms and the struggle for black equality.

On March 12, 1965, twenty-five civil rights demonstrators entered Independence Hall and began a sit-in around the Liberty Bell. The demonstration was to dramatize the need to send Federal authorities to Selma, Alabama, to protect the rights of African Americans.
--"The Liberty Bell: A Special History Study," National Park Service, 1986

Questions for Reading 1

1. Using a dictionary, look up the definition for "symbol." What are some symbols that you are most familiar with?

2. What did the bell represent in 1876?

3. What did the bell represent to suffragists?

4. Would you have supported the proposal to move the Liberty Bell during World War II? Why or why not? What does the proposal say about the importance of the Liberty Bell as a symbol?

5. Why do you think abolitionist groups selected the bell as their symbol? How did later civil rights groups use the bell?

Compiled from David Kimball, Venerable Relic: The Story of the Liberty Bell (Philadelphia: Eastern National Park and Monument Association, 1989); and John C. Paige with David A. Kimball, "The Liberty Bell: A Special History Study," National Park Service, Denver, unpublished manuscript, 1986.

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