Story Stream
recent articles

On this date in 1776, a one-ton copper bell rang from the Pennsylvania state capitol, signaling the formulation -- if the colonists could successfully defend it on the battlefield -- of a new nation. Today, that building is known as Independence Hall and the large instrument that made the noise heard 'round the world is called the Liberty Bell.

But women couldn't vote in this new country. (John Adams had not heeded the advice of his wife -- "Remember the Ladies," Abigail had written him in March, "and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.")

The rest of the Continental Congress ignored a far starker injustice: Patriots rallied by the words and sentiment of a declaration vowing that "all men are created equal" did not outlaw slavery.

It was left to the 16th U.S. president to explain to his fellow Americans that the Civil War they were fighting was the "unfinished work" of a nation "conceived in liberty." Martin Luther King Jr. made the same point at the Lincoln Memorial 100 years later. He called the Declaration of Independence a "promissory note" that had not been honored. The document, he said, was a promise that Americans of all colors and creeds would be guaranteed "the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

It was the publication of that ringing promise that set the Liberty Bell tolling 245 years ago today. Why July 8, instead of July 4? Because that's how long it took at the printers. Our technology has improved since 1776. As to whether we've fully redeemed the Rev. King's promissory note is a question we're still arguing about, especially during the past two summers.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

Show comments Hide Comments