A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Proclaim Liberty


The Bell achieves its iconic status when abolitionists adopt it as a symbol for their movement and name it the "Liberty Bell." In retrospect, it is a remarkably apt metaphor for a country that is cracked and freedom-fissured for its black inhabitants. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison has a particular fondness for expressing his antislavery beliefs through poetry, which he believes to be "naturally and instinctively on the side of liberty."


Selection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: Proclaim Liberty throughout All the Land..., [1840s].
Selection from the Library of Congress: William L. Garrison. "Sonnet to Liberty," 14 December 1840.

Questions to Consider


  1. Why is the word "ALL" in capital letters on the banner?
  2. Summarize the poem in your own words. What is the author conveying? What further questions do you have about this document? Is there missing information that would help you make sense of it?


  1. What is happening in the 1840s to encourage production of these banners? Who has power in the 1840s, and who doesn't? Who has liberty and freedom, and who doesn't? Who decides?
  2. Where does this poem fall in a timeline of abolitionist activities? Why is "liberty" emphasized in this poem and in this banner?


  1. Why is there a picture of the Liberty Bell on the banner? Describe the way it is drawn. Explain its history and symbolism. Summarize the message of this banner.
  2. Why is Garrison expressing his views through poetry? Why might Garrison believe that poetry is "naturally and instinctively on the side of liberty"?


  1. How are the banner's creators "PROCLAIMING LIBERTY"? How are those seeing the banner expected to do so? Is this an original saying, or does it come from some other source?
  2. What is the tone of this poem? For whom might Garrison have written it? How does its tone compare to that of the banner?


  1. How could the banner be used to help people understand the poem better and vice versa?
  2. If you were to write one introduction to both the banner and poem with the title "Garrison and Liberty," what would you say in one hundred  words or less?