The promise of liberty is at the heart of the American experience. Throughout America’s founding era, biblical teachings sparked a desire not only for religious freedom but also for political, civil, and economic liberties. Many Americans believed such liberties came directly from God. The Declaration of Independence articulates this belief, stating the “self-evident” truth of God-given human equality and liberty. The power of this message attracted seekers of freedom from around the world. Yet the cause of liberty for all people would advance slowly. In succeeding generations, people of faith had to contend with deeply entrenched traditions and biases to see liberty’s promise fulfilled. That struggle continues.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
2 Corinthians 3:17b
The Bible inspired many of America’s champions of liberty. Throughout the generations, those who strove to win liberty for all were often motivated by a deep faith. We call these people Changemakers. The exhibits here present profiles of some of these Changemakers, who struggled valiantly for their own rights and the rights of others. Facing a broad array of challenges, the Changemakers spoke out courageously for liberties of all kinds—religious, political, civil, and economic.
These Changemakers are men, women, and even children from different backgrounds and historical eras. What do they have in common? They looked to the Bible for guidance, for courage, and for social ideals. The teachings and stories of the Bible shaped their values, formed their moral imagination, and revised their sense of what was possible. As the Declaration of Independence gave life to this nation and the Constitution gave it form, we could look to a third document, the Bible, as the shaper of the nation’s conscience.
Rebecca Gratz was the most influential Jewish woman in early America. She founded both civic and Jewish charities, including the Hebrew Sunday School Society, and inspired women with ideals of “Republican Womanhood.”
“How shall we thank God who grants us living examples of truth and holiness to dwell in our midst?”
Louisa B. Hart, friend and colleague, 1864
The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Accession number 1954.1936
You have no lamp collections from Rebecca Gratz
Richard Allen was a formerly enslaved person turned Methodist minister, abolitionist, and civil rights leader who founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first African American religious denomination in America.
“If Richard Allen could transform a blacksmith’s shop into a church that changed history, then surely—surely—we can get our communities more engaged in our democracy.”
Michelle Obama, First Lady, 2012
You have no lamp collections from Richard Allen
In 1859, the 10-year-old Irish Catholic immigrant Thomas Whall refused to recite from the King James Bible. Beaten and expelled for his dissent, he inspired the Eliot School Rebellion, a mass walkout by fellow students.
“I was expelled for not reading Protestant prayers from a Protestant bible. Such was the Modern Athens [Boston] in 1859.”
Thomas Whall, 1904
You have no lamp collections from Thomas Whall
William Bentley Ball, a Catholic layman and one of the nation’s foremost religious liberty litigators, argued nine cases before the United States Supreme Court and advised on 25 others. He influenced court opinion.
Douglas Kmiec, legal scholar, 1995
You have no lamp collections from William Bentley Ball
Abraham Lincoln led a deeply divided nation through the Civil War as the 16th President of the United States. Morally opposed to slavery, he worked to emancipate enslaved Americans and affirm their full citizenship.
“The mystery of historical events called from him faith in divine superintendence. … Lincoln’s pass through the furnace left him at the end wanting more, not less, to believe.”
Allen C. Guelzo, historian and biographer, 1999
You have no lamp collections from Abraham Lincoln
Wife and husband Angelina Grimké and Theodore Dwight Weld were influential abolitionists and women’s suffragists. Their advocacy was anchored in their belief that the Bible affirmed human equality before God.
“[It was] the wedding of the most mobbed-man and the most notorious woman in America … a public testimonial to their faith in the equality of men and women of all races before God.”
Dr. Gerda Lerner, historian and biographer, 2004
You have no lamp collections from Angelina Grimké & Theodore Dwight Weld
The Beechers were prominent and influential 19th-century ministers, reformers, writers, and activists. Their work in religion, education, abolition, and women’s and Native American rights changed American history.
“This country is inhabited by saints, sinners and Beechers.”
Dr. Leonard Bacon, minister and historian, 1863
You have no lamp collections from The Beecher Family
Frederick Douglass was a fugitive of slavery, abolitionist, laypreacher, orator, journalist, and U.S. diplomat who advocated for the equality of all peoples and rights of women.
“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity.”
Frederick Douglass, 1845
You have no lamp collections from Frederick Douglass
William Jennings Bryan championed the teachings of Jesus and Jefferson in advocating for the rights of workers and women, regulation of big business, reform of campaign finance, progressive taxation, and world peace.
When Bryan speaks, the sky is ours,
The wheat, the forests, and the flowers.
And who is here to say us nay?
Fled are the ancient tyrant powers.
Vachel Lindsay, poet, 1915
You have no lamp collections from William Jennings Bryan
Sojourner Truth was a formerly enslaved evangelist and a vocal advocate for abolition, temperance, and civil and women’s rights. She felt a divine calling to travel and speak truth.
[D]evoted to the welfare of her race, she has been for the last forty years an object of respect and admiration to social reformers everywhere.
Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and journalist, 1883
You have no lamp collections from Sojourner Truth
Jeremiah Evarts was the leading national opponent of President Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian removal. Evarts’s essays were carried by major newspapers to over 500,000 readers, influencing public opinion and officials.
The Cherokees are neither savages, nor criminals … their only offense consists in the possession of lands which their neighbors covet.
Jeremiah Evarts, 1829
You have no lamp collections from Jeremiah Evarts
William Holmes McGuffey was an educator who created the McGuffey Readers for children. More than textbooks, they framed the country’s ethics through moral stories, indelibly shaping American character.
“[H]is labors in the cause of education, … his conscientious Christian character—all these have made him one of the noblest ornaments of our profession in this age.”
National Education Association resolution, August 5, 1873
You have no lamp collections from William Holmes McGuffey
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was America’s greatest social reformer. As a Baptist and civil rights leader he organized faith-based, nonviolent protests against racial segregation, advocating equal rights for all.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964
You have no lamp collections from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cesar Chavez was a Catholic Mexican American farmworker, civil rights activist, and cofounder of the National Farm Workers Association. His nonviolent civil disobedience advanced workers’ rights.
“Help us love even those who hate us; So we can change the world. Amen.”
You have no lamp collections from Cesar Chavez
Arthur and Lewis Tappan were Bible-reading brothers, entrepreneurs, and “philanthrocapitalists” who turned abolition into a national movement and funded other social reform efforts.
“Never mind the Wright brothers. Ignore the Kennedys. Forget the Kochs. Arthur and Lewis Tappan had a bigger transformative effect on America than any other brothers in our history.”
Karl Zinsmeister, journalist and author, 2016
You have no lamp collections from Arthur & Lewis Tappan
Jane Addams, the “Mother of American Social Work,” was a pioneer of the Settlement House Movement for urban poor, founder of the famed Hull House in Chicago, and an international peace advocate and Nobel laureate.
“[T]he Bible formed the inspiration for her life of service and was a foundational source for determining how best to live the vocation for which she was destined.”
Ann W. Duncan, religious studies scholar, 2015
You have no lamp collections from Jane Addams
Anna Jarvis, the mother of Mother’s Day, created the holiday to honor her own mother’s life. A devout Christian, she intended the day as a simple and spiritual tribute to motherhood.
“You are a convincing orator, a brilliant thinker, you will be able to obtain what you want. Your Mother’s Day idea will honor you through ages to come.”
Russell Conwell to Anna M. Jarvis, May 10, 1908
You have no lamp collections from Anna Jarvis
James Cash “J. C.” Penney was a poor Missouri farm boy and son of a Baptist preacher who founded one of America’s largest department store chains and operated its business according to the Bible’s Golden Rule.
“I knew I must learn, specifically, to give myself over to God’s plan for me. … I had been given both talents and experience as part of a plan.”
James Cash Penney, 1950
You have no lamp collections from James Cash Penney
Liberty Definition Goes Here