Book Minute

Sign Up For Book Minute
July 19, 2021

Quakers and the Liberty Bell

Few people know that the story of the Liberty Bell begins with the Bible and the particular way the Pennsylvania Quakers interpreted it. Quakerism is a movement that emerged within Christianity in England in the 1600s. Based on their interpretation of the Bible, the Quakers were pacifists and believed that all people are children of God, deserving of dignity and rights. Eventually the Quakers were persecuted in England, so many fled to Pennsylvania. Isaac Norris II belonged to one of the most prominent Quaker families in Pennsylvania. His father had been mayor of Philadelphia, and a slave-owner. As the 1700s wore on, however, the Quakers were increasingly persuaded that owning slaves was a sin and incompatible with their beliefs about the Bible. Eventually the Norris family freed all their slaves. It was Norris who, as speaker of the colonial assembly, commissioned the bell in 1751. The Bible verse he ordered stretched around the bell proclaims a biblical instruction that slaves should be freed every fifty years. “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land,” say the words of Leviticus 25:10, “unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Norris died in 1766, ten years before the Declaration of Independence. Fortunately, his bell survived the British attack on Philadelphia. For fear of British forces melting it down for munitions, it was hidden beneath the floorboards of a church in Allentown. The Quakers’ activism lived on too. Quakers petitioned Congress to abolish slavery in 1790, and worked alongside William Wilberforce to halt the British slave trade. When abolitionism gained momentum in the United States in the 1830s, the Quakers were at the forefront, and so was the Liberty Bell with its jubilant biblical proclamation of freedom for all.

Explore Other Book Minutes

Click Here