Lady Liberty – Who Are You?

statue-of-liberty-emma-lazarus-poem-1883

When you think of the Statue of Liberty, what is your first thought? The Statue of Liberty was conceived by a political activist in France who wanted to set an example to his country of American democracy. Edouard de Laboulaye was inspired by the United States Constitution, the fact that America held itself together through its civil war, and that it passed the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery and proving that justice and liberty for all was possible). He created a plan to partner with the United States to build a colossal statue as a way to strengthen the cause for democracy in France. Initially the Statue of Liberty was not as much about America, as it was about France.

The architect that designed the statue, Auguste Bartholdi, first called his work, “Liberty Enlightening the World.” He actually had designed a similarly colossal statue to stand tall at the opening of the Suez Canal, which he also wanted to represent freedom. His design was not accepted for the Suez Canal. Lucky for America, we got his design efforts in an improved version. Between Laboulaye and Bartholdi, they worked out a way to get France to pay for their idea of the statue and the United States to pay for the pedestal.

Bartholdi needed to hire an engineer to help him design how the structure would stand. When his first engineer unexpectedly died, Bartholdi reached out to another engineer named Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. Only after Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel oversaw the completion of the statue, did he return to France. He then designed one of the most famous structures in the world.

The United States was having a hard time finding funds to build the pedestal for the statue. Thankfully, Joseph Pulitzer, a newspaper magnate, ran an ad in his newspaper, the New York World, asking for donations from the American public. He made a plea saying that the statue was “not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America” (Pulitzer). With this plea Pulitzer raised the necessary funds and in thanks, he published the names of each person who made a contribution, no matter the amount.

Other fundraising efforts were also taking place in the United States. One of these was a poetry competition. Emma Lazarus (inspired by her Sephardic Jewish descent) authored the winning poem, which she called The New Colossus. She wrote from the perspective of foreigners entering into New York’s harbor saying, “give me your tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” (Lazarus). Her poem became a beacon to the “wretched refuse of teeming shores…” and stood for an America with open arms (Lazarus). It was published in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and the New York Times and (really, only after her death) expanded the symbols of the Statue of Liberty to represent immigration and opportunity, in addition to liberty – symbols that all remain today. Sixteen years after her death, one of her close friends persuaded officials to inscribe her poem on the statue’s pedestal.

My first thoughts on this magnificent lady focus on freedom and new opportunities for foreign born people. Most of our country’s symbolic statues depict our forefathers – but lady liberty represents something more than the people that founded our country, helped preserve our country, and fought for our country. As she holds her torch up high, she expresses all of our ideals, our discourse and debate, our struggles to overcome our differences and our efforts to preserve our great nation. She represents America.

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3 thoughts on “Lady Liberty – Who Are You?

  1. What a great post! Makes me wonder how we should reflect on our current situation with building a massive wall to prevent Mexico’s tired, poor, and huddled masses from entering the states…?

  2. I think we tend to take the Statue of Liberty for granted. But it is a powerful and iconic symbol of all that we stand for as a country. Thanks, Alec, for the wonderful history lesson!

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