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Setting the Stage

In the 18th century, citizens across the colonies depended on bells to communicate important news. Bells might call them to put out fires, notify them of an approaching merchant ship, warn them about a possible attack by Indians or enemy soldiers, or tell them to gather to hear news important to the community. From the start, the bell that would become known as the Liberty Bell rang out for larger, more national purposes. Originally, it was commissioned for the Pennsylvania State House, which was built between 1732 and 1756. It knelled to mark the death of monarchs and pealed for the coronation of George III. It was muffled to toll the Stamp Act and was rung joyously when that act was repealed. It was probably rung on July 8, 1776, to gather Philadelphians to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Some basic information about the Liberty Bell is found on the bell itself. On the waist is the inscription "PASS AND STOW"óthe last names of the founders who cast the bell. Under the foundersí names are the letters "PHILADA" (an abbreviation for Philadelphia) and the numbers "MDCCLIII" (1753), the year the bell was made. The inscription encircling the top of the bell reads: "BY ORDER OF THE ASSEMBLY OF THE PROVINCE OF PENSYLVANIA [sic] FOR THE STATE HOUSE IN PHILADA." It is often incorrectly noted that there is a misspelling on the Liberty Bell. In the 18th century, spelling was not standardized and it was acceptable to spell Pennsylvania with one "n," or in a number of other ways. The copy of the letter written by the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly specifying the bellís inscription spells Pennsylvania with only one "n."

The top line of the inscription is a verse from the Bible, Leviticus chapter 25, verse 10: "PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV X," and it was this inscription that fostered the transformation of the old State House bell into the Liberty Bell.

First called the "Liberty Bell" by abolitionist publications in the 1830s, the bell thereafter was adopted as a symbol to promote a wide variety of causes, from womenís rights to civil rights, to protests against political oppression.




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