Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lady Liberty

…Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

by Karol Tharnish
Southeast Community College

These are the words from the poem The New Colossus written by Emma Lazarus in the winter of 1883 and placed on a tablet within the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands. The Statue of Liberty is a national monument and a national symbol for our country. I think it stands for the virtues this country was founded upon, and what we hope to stand for today. Today I will inform you of how the Statue of Liberty came to be. I will relate to you the circumstances that led up to the conception of the statue, why it was made, who built it, and funded it. I will also share with you what it meant to the people of France to give America this gift.

In a book written by Hertha Pauli and E. B. Ashton published in 1948 and titled I Lift My Lamp, they write of the history of the French people and their government in the 1800s. France admired America’s fight for freedom during The War For Independence from Britain. Many French citizens came to America to fight during The War For Independence. In the Civil War years the French liberals had helped the Union cause, and after Napoleon’s fall they wanted similar backing from the United States (Pauli & Ashton, 1948, p.2).

One of the most notable was the Marquis de Lafayette, who served as a lieutenant under George Washington. Edouard de Laboulaye, professor at the College de France, spoke and wrote often of his admiration of the United States. He believed that France and America were sisters (Pauli & Ashton, 1948, p. 23).

In the book Bearer Of A Million Dreams, Frank Spiering (1986) wrote of the admiration for the United States way of governing that was growing in France during the 1800s. One way Laboulaye wanted to acknowledge this admiration was to erect a monument. According to the book Gateway To Liberty, (Shapiro, 1986) Leboulaye had brought up the idea of a monument to be given as a gift to America at a dinner party held at his house in 1865. In notes taken by Auguste Bartholdi, a famous French sculptor at that time, and cited in the book published in 1948 by Hertha Pauli and E.B. Ashton, Bartholdi wrote down the idea in his personal journal for future reference.

After discussing the idea again years late, the two men had doubts as to the reaction of the people of the United States to the idea of the statue. It was decided between the two men that Bartholdi would travel to America and gather a feel for the country and its people, and what they thought of having a statue erected in America by the French (Spiering, 1986, p. 23).

Auguste Bartholdi sailed from France in June 1871. In his personal journal (as cited in Bearer Of A Million Dreams) he said that “At the view of the harbor of New York, the definite plan was first clear to my eyes.” He had an immediate idea for the statue and sketched it (p. 29).

Bartholdi traveled from the east coast to the west coast of the United States to spark interest in the monument project. He wrote in his personal journal, “I am very glad to have come here, for the place is most extraordinary. It is really a very good thing to see the world in its various aspects …”. In New York he talked with many influential and wealthy people to see if any would financially back their idea. Interest was sparked, but not many donations were made to the project (Spiering, 1986, p. 29 & p. 63).

Leboulaye returned to France in 1871 and began a committee called the “Union Franco Americaine” in a one-room office in Paris. He hoped that money could be raised so that work on the statue could begin (Shapiro, 1986, p. 14).

Many people in France and America were lukewarm to the idea. Bartholdi had sent a sketch of what the statue would look like to Harpers Weekly, a magazine based in New York. He hoped if people saw what she would look like they would be more interested (Spiering, 1986, p. 63).

He had circulars printed asking the French people for support. He gave a banquet fundraiser in Paris inviting two hundred of the richest, most famous people in the city. The banquet was a success. By the end of the evening the first funds to start work on the statue had been raised. Leboulaye made a trip throughout France asking for donations. One hundred and fifty municipalities contributed. Enough money was raised to make the torch and Lady Liberty’s hand (Spiering, 1986, p. 64-68).

In August 1876 the torch and hand of the statue arrived in Philadelphia to be shown at the Exhibition there. An 1876 newspaper article from the New York Times (as cited in Pauli & Ashton, 1948) declared that if New York did not provide the money for the pedestal for the statue to be placed on, Philadelphia would.

The New York Times printed an editorial stating that it felt that if this statue was to be a gift, no American should have to pay for it. Bartholdi informed them that the United States was only asked to provide the pedestal for the statue (Hertha & Ashton, 1948, p. 169). The work on the statue continued in France and Bartholdi continued working in the United States taking care of the details.

The United States Congress had officially accepted the gift of the Statue of Liberty from France, now it would need to be decided were to put the statue. The famous Civil War figure, General William Tecumseh Sherman had been appointed to decide whether Bedloe’s Island or Governor’s Island in New York would be the site for the statue. Bartholdi thought that on Governor’s Island, the statue would blur with New York and compete with the Brooklyn Bridge. He wanted the statue to stand in profile watching those passing by her, guiding them as they moved through the harbor. During the last week of February 1877, Auguste learned that General Sherman agreed with him, Lady Liberty would be placed on Bedloe’s Island (Shapiro, 1986, p. 87).

Now Auguste could return to France and continue work on the rest of the Statue. Auguste began working on the Statue, not knowing if the Americans would have the funds to complete the pedestal for it. The people of France did not want to give up the statue. Bartholdi made a replica of the Statue of Liberty to appease the people in his country at loosing the Statue of Liberty. It was placed near the Eiffel Tower. He put the statue’s inner structure into the hands of the most brilliant engineer of that time, Gustave Eiffel. This was a difficult engineering feat due to the size of the statue (Spiering, 1986, p. 96).

The statue was completed in July, 1884. Lady Liberty was disassembled, packed, and shipped to the United States on May 21, 1885. In an article from The World newspaper published in 1885 Joseph Pulitzer wrote an editorial about the disgrace of the United States in not having a place for this wonderful gift to land. He pleaded with the citizens of the United States to donate to the pedestal fund. The money was raised and the pedestal was completed (Shapiro, 1986).

It had taken fifteen years of Bartholdi’s life, and much of his fortune, but the Statue of Liberty was unveiled on October 28, 1886. There were many contributing factors to the completion of this national monument. The idea sprung from the admiration of two men, Edouard de Laboulaye and Auguste Bartholdi; it was their tenacity that spread the word of the monuments importance to the peoples of France and America (Hertha & Ashton, 1948). The ideas for the framework construction of this unusually large structure came from Gustave Eiffel. The funds raised for the pedestal were largely due to a Joseph Pulitzer. The newspaper articles he wrote and his powers of persuasion prompted donations from all parts of the United States. The poem that brings the ideals of a nation home to us all was written by Emma Lazarus (Hertha & Ashton, 1948).

Small statues of all four of these people stand on the same ground as the Statue of Liberty (Spiering, 1986). Laboulaye die before the completion of the Statue of Liberty, but Bartholdi was there for the unveiling in 1886 (Hertha & Ashton, 1948).

Today I have informed you how the Statue of Liberty came to be. I have related to you the circumstances that led up to the conception of the Statue of Liberty, why it was made, who built it, and who funded it. I have also shared with you what it meant to the people of France to give America this gift.

“…I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” These were the words written by Emma Lazarus on the tablets in the base of the Statue of Liberty. In a book about immigrants entering this country titled, Ellis Island Interviews written by Peter Martin Coan in 1997, I found a moving quote from one immigrant coming from Poland in 1920 at the age of ten. Larry Edelman remembers:

We were all lined on deck. The thrill of seeing that statue there. And the tears in everybody’s eyes, which, as a child, got me the same feeling. It was more, not freedom from oppression, I think, but more freedom from want…

This monument means so many different things to so many different people. I think that is what a monument should do, mean something.


Coan, P.M. (1997). Ellis Island interviews. NY: Facts On File, Inc.

Pauli, H., & Ashton, E. (1948). I lift my lamp. NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Shapiro, M.J. (1986). Gateway to Liberty: The story of the Statue Of Liberty And Ellis Island. NY: Vintage Books.

Spiering, F. (1986). Bearer of a million dreams. Ottawa: Jameson Books.

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