Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.
“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!”
Emma Lazarus wrote this poem in 1883 as part of a campaign to raise funds to build the Statue of Liberty. She wrote it very reluctantly. She was busy with relief efforts and supplies for European Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe in the wake of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1882. She was very ill and in declining health at the time and did not relish an extra task. When the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886, she was too ill to attend the ceremony. She died the following year.
The current rulers of the USA want to appropriate traditional American symbols for the cause of white supremacy. The Statue of Liberty is hard for them to enlist in that ambition because Emma Lazarus' poem -- and the Statue itself -- directly challenge their xenophobic policies. And so, they try to separate her poem from the Statue of Liberty by claiming that the Statue never had anything to do with immigration. They insist on calling the Statue by its original name, Liberty Enlightening the World. In fact, as the official title of the Statue suggests, Emma Lazarus understood its intended meaning very well. Liberty addresses the world beyond New York Harbor, beyond our shores. Our current rulers aren't interested in the world. They want to build a wall to keep the world out. They brutalize refugees and even legal immigrants to keep the rest of the world away. However, the USA exists because of wave after wave of immigration from around the world to a continent that was conquered and its native population subdued and exterminated. That process of immigration and settlement began long before the Republic existed.
Our rulers and their true believers certainly love Liberty, provided it's their own liberty. But as far as they are concerned, everyone else can stay in their chains. The broken shackles at the feet of the Statue of Liberty say otherwise. She stands for Liberty for all. And that's what Emma Lazarus proclaims in her still popular and much loved poem.
The Statue of Liberty is a central symbol of the United States, but we forget sometimes how controversial the Statue originally was.
Liberty for All preoccupied the small circle of French intellectuals who thought up the Statue of Liberty; Liberty for Americans, Liberty for the French, and Liberty for newly freed African slaves.
Edouard de Laboulaye
Edouard de Laboulaye first dreamed up a monumental gift to the United States. Laboulaye, a French Abolitionist and president of a French anti-slavery society (Société Française pour l'abolition de l'esclavage), studied the American Constitution and the American Revolution. He paid very close attention to news from the Civil War in the USA. He enthusiastically supported the Union cause and President Lincoln (as did a foreign correspondent for Horace Greeley's newspapers in London, Karl Marx). The Union victory and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery in the USA inspired Laboulaye and a small group of like minded French intellectuals to create some kind of grand gift to the USA to commemorate the destruction of slavery and victory in a hard fought war to end it. They were liberals who believed in universal enfranchisement and democracy. Laboulaye and his circle regarded the end of slavery in the USA as a major accomplishment in progress toward universal human liberation. They also wanted to promote liberal democracy and universal enfranchisement at home in their native France. Louis Napoleon ruled France since 1848, first as a dictator who came to power in a coup d'etat, and then as Emperor Napoleon III. Laboulaye and his liberal friends met in secret keeping underground contacts with other republicans in France and throughout Europe.
Laboulaye's circle would not be able to act until the fall of Louis Napoleon during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
A very striking poster from 1863 when the Civil War was still far from decided showing Liberty with feathers in her hair astride the American eagle with a host of Founding Fathers. Justice rides with Mercy who reaches down to aid an enslaved African woman who pleads for help. The American Eagle tears away the mantle and shoots thunderbolts at King Cotton, an enthroned monster made of a cotton bale with an alligator head. His throne bears the seven stars of the Confederacy. Behind is a burning tree with the names of legislation that supposedly enabled the rebellion such as the Fugitive Slave Act. On the left in the shadows, rebels and personifications of rebellion and discord flee to the sea hoping for rescue from a slave ship in the distance. A boat with slaves arrives on the shore only to see their cargo liberated. It's not likely that Laboulaye would have seen this, but he certainly shared its sentiments.
After 1870 and the establishment of the very conservative Third Republic in the wake of the bloody uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871, Laboulaye (now an anti-monarchist senator in the French Senate) and his circle began to think seriously about what kind of monumental gift they wanted to produce for the USA. A member of their circle, the sculptor Frederic Bartholdi proposed a giant statue, perhaps a statue of an allegorical figure of Liberty. Bartholdi was present at the earliest meetings of Laboulaye's circle in 1865, and his presence suggests that a monumental sculpture was always intended.
Bartholdi, a native of Colmar in Alsace-Lorraine, specialized in producing large allegorical sculptures. His most famous large monument before the Statue of Liberty was the Lion of Belfort
commemorating stubborn French resistance to Prussian efforts to take the fortress of Belfort in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
As time passed and the project developed, its emphasis, if not quite its meaning, changed. Laboulaye became increasingly distressed by the violent reaction against African American enfranchisement in the South, and by efforts to reconcile North and South by forgetting slavery and its abolition. The USA was to be reconciled at the expense of African Americans. After 1870, the monument's purpose to commemorate the end of slavery subsided to make way for a new purpose, a general commemoration of American liberty in time for the 1876 centennial of the American Revolution. The original commemoration of the end of slavery became reduced to the shackles at Liberty's feet. Even that proved to be too much for some politicians who strenuously objected to the Statue.
What would Liberty look like?
Libertas Publica, the Roman goddess of Liberty on a coin from the reign of Emperor Nerva.
She carries in her right hand the Phrygian Cap given to newly freed slaves.
An ancient Roman painting of Helios, god of the sun.
It was ancient imagery such as this that inspired the design of Liberty's crown with its seven rays.
A 19th century reconstruction of the Colossus of Rhodes.
The Colossus of Rhodes referred to in Emma Lazarus' poem was originally a giant statue of Helios, god of the sun. The Rhodians built it in 280 BCE to commemorate a victory over the king of Cyprus in in 305 BCE. It too had the seven ray crown associated with Helios. According to ancient sources, the Colossus was built of bronze around an iron and stone support structure within the statue. The Rhodians used captured Cypriot weaponry for the bronze and iron in the Colossus. On the base of the Colossus was this inscription:
To you O Sun, the people of Dorian Rhodes set up this bronze statue reaching up to Olympus, when they had pacified the waves of war and crowned their city with the spoils taken from the enemy. Not only over the waves, but also on land did they kindle the lovely torch of freedom and independence. For to the descendants of Herakles belongs dominion over sea and land.
The height of the Colossus of Rhodes was probably around 108 feet. From feet to torch, the Statue of Liberty is a similar height, 151 feet. From head to toe, she is 111 feet tall. Bartholdi certainly had the Colossus in mind when he designed the Statue, including its dimensions. Bartholdi also built the Statue of Liberty around an iron framework, but instead of bronze, he used copper. Instead of casting the Statue whole or in pieces in bronze, he hammered the individual copper plates into shape and hung them on the frame. Bartholdi chose copper because it was much easier to shape by repoussé technique than bronze. Copper had an added bonus of symbolism. It is not a metal of war like bronze and iron. Bartholdi wanted to invert the Colossus' original meaning as a military victory monument.
Emma Lazarus understood this since she begins her poem with the Colossus of Rhodes and how the Statue of Liberty is not like it. Her poem also inverts the meaning of the Colossus, certainly as described in its original inscription. Instead of an arrogant victory monument, she described Liberty Enlightening the World addressing directly the world's outcast poor who yearn for Liberty and a new beginning most passionately. Instead of Liberty won for heroes through military conquest, Liberty becomes a democratic refuge and the opportunity for a new life for all people.
In one of the Statue's more painful ironies, WEB DuBois returning from Europe gazed at the Statue of Liberty from the ship and regretted that he could not feel moved by it since African Americans, the only group brought to the Americas against their will, could not share in her promise. The irony is all the more painful when we reflect that the Statue was originally conceived to commemorate the liberation of African Americans from bondage.
Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830
Bartholdi certainly knew Marianne, the traditional French personification of Liberty never more stirringly depicted than in Delacroix's great painting.
Bartholdi's proposal for a colossal light house on the Suez Canal in Egypt
Bartholdi already had some experience designing a harbor colossus. He proposed to build a lighthouse for the Suez Canal in the form of a giant bronze woman wearing what appears to be a cross between the Muslim burqa and the Nemes headdress of the ancient Pharaohs. The colossus was never built. The Khedive of Egypt went bankrupt before work could begin. Bartholdi used this as the basis for his conception of the Statue of Liberty, only making her more Greco-Roman Classical instead of Egypto-Islamic.
An early maquette by Bartholdi for the Statue of Liberty
As we can see in this early maquette, Bartholdi intended from the beginning to include a reference to the end of slavery in the form of broken shackles. They appear on the base of this maquette prominently. As the concept of the Statue of Liberty evolved, the shackles became less prominent, though they never disappeared and made it to the finished colossus in the harbor.
One of several maquettes for the Statue
The "Committee Model" of the Statue of Liberty showing the final conception; one of several small editions cast in 1875 and sold to raise money for the construction of the Statue.
In the final design, Bartholdi made Liberty into a colossus that strides forward raising the torch to "enlighten the world" in her right hand. With her left, she holds a tablet bearing the date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. She wears the seven rayed crown of the god Helios from the Colossus of Rhodes, a reference to light and to the seven seas; the global promise of Liberty. The broken shackles commemorating the end of slavery are still there at her feet, though not nearly as visible as they were in earlier maquettes.
When the design for the Statue was settled, work began on it in Bartholdi's Paris studios in 1875. Instead of a massive casting in whole or in part, Bartholdi decided to make the Statue out of thin copper plates shaped by hammering them over forms cast from plaster. Bartholdi and his numerous assistants would then attach the copper plates to a cast iron frame that would do the work of holding up the Statue. The exterior copper skin would hang off the iron frame doing no support work at all; a foretaste of the curtain wall construction pioneered at the Bauhaus in 1925.
The Statue of Liberty first rose over the rooftops of Paris supported by a temporary frame. It was later disassembled and its head and torch hand were put on tour to various exhibitions in France and the USA to raise money for its construction.
Gustave Eiffel of Tower fame designed the permanent framework for the Statue in its destined home in New York harbor. Eiffel made the support frame out of very hard tempered cast iron, the same material that he would use for the Eiffel Tower. He designed the framework with high winds and wide ranging seasonal temperatures in mind, to stabilize the Statue and make it secure for generations.
Liberty's head on display at an industrial exhibition in Paris in 1878
The torch hand of Liberty on display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.
Bartholdi and the committee to build the Statue had little trouble raising funds in France. The Statue was popular with the French and attracted a lot of public support. The USA for whom this gift was made was much less enthusiastic. Public opinion and politicians were not at all happy about the agreement for France to pay for the Statue's creation and construction if the USA would foot the bill for a base. The total cost to the USA would be about $100,000 in late 19th century dollars (about $2.3 million today). Though the Statue and its iron frame were complete and ready to ship in pieces to be reassembled in New York, it sat in storage while the public, politicians, and newspaper editors objected to accepting the gift from France.
As is typical in American politics, arguments over financing concealed deeper and uglier reasons for reluctance to accept the Statue. Along with the surge in immigration in the late 19th century, especially from Eastern and Southern Europe, came a strong backlash of xenophobia. About 20 years earlier, Constantino Brumidi who made most of the important painted decoration in the US Capitol faced hostility over his Italian origins. For many, the Statue was suspiciously foreign, as were all the people arriving daily from Europe in New York's harbor.
Southern politicians and newspaper editors were especially hostile. They noted the Statue's origins as a commemoration of the abolition of slavery. They objected strenuously to the presence of the broken shackles at Liberty's feet, even though they are largely invisible from the ground. As far as white Southerners were concerned, the Statue was a colossal insult at the hands of arrogant perfidious foreigners.
Then Governor of New York Grover Cleveland successfully vetoed the funds raised by the state legislature for the construction of the Statue. Bills to raise the $100,000 failed in Congress. The New York committee to build the Statue raised only $3000 and faced bankruptcy.
The publisher of The New York World, Joseph Pulitzer came to the rescue with strong editorials calling for the Statue's completion and shaming opponents. Even more effective, Pulitzer in all of his newspapers created a fundraising drive to raise the $100,000 needed, all in small donations. Children and the young were the most responsive with donations sometimes as small as a few cents. School children donated pennies while paper boys and bellhops donated their tips. While most of the funds raised were from the New York area, donations came from as far away as Iowa. Bars in New York City and in Brooklyn (a separate city at the time) passed the hat around for funds and set up swear jars to raise money for the Statue. Donations flooded in and the committee to build the Statue began work on the base.
Construction of the base
The commission appointed to build the Statue of Liberty decided to use Fort Wood on Bedloe's Island in New York harbor. The fort had an 11 pointed star formation for artillery, one of many such fortifications built around the harbor to secure it from an anticipated attack by the British navy in the War of 1812. The star fortification would be incorporated into the Statue's base. Richard Morris Hunt, one of the most successful architects of the day, designed the pedestal to hold the Statue. He originally proposed a 114 foot tall structure made of solid granite. Cost overruns forced him to shorten the structure to 89 feet and the bulk of it to be built of concrete faced with granite. Despite the cost considerations, it's a beautiful and successful design that presents the Statue to the harbor without calling attention to itself. Liberty faces the southeast to greet the rising sun and the ship traffic coming into the harbor from the Atlantic.
The base of the Statue of Liberty
Hunt designed a tapering structure, a truncated pyramid supposedly inspired by ancient Pre-Columbian architecture in Mexico. He added to that Mexican pyramid Classical Doric rustication more familiar to himself and to his public. Hunt embedded steel supports in the base for Eiffel's iron framework to be attached.
Richard Morris Hunt
The dedication of the Statue of Liberty October 28, 1886
Grover Cleveland, now President of the United States, presided over the dedication ceremony of the colossus that he had opposed as Governor of New York. The general public, aroused by Pulitzer's fundraising campaign, out maneuvered Grover Cleveland and Congressional Southern Democrats.
The Statue of Liberty today.
The broken shackles at Liberty's feet that still offend white supremacists to this day.
Andreas Feininger's 1942 photograph of the Statue
This is probably my favorite photo of the Statue, a lengthy exposure taken during the wee hours of the morning during the World War II "dim-out." Fearful of German air raids, and of even more likely German submarine attacks (German U-boats patrolled the Atlantic not far from the Outer Harbor), the city turned out most of its lights including the flood lights on the Statue of Liberty.
If the current regime endures and changes the country permanently, then not only will Emma Lazarus' poem be expunged, but the Statue itself might come down. An officially racist and re-segregated USA will have no interest in anyone's liberty enlightening the world. The Statue of Liberty would become too glaring a contradiction of official policy.
But then, the Statue of Liberty always contradicted official policy. The USA for all its public pieties was never interested in Liberty Enlightening the World. The USA was always a deeply racist country; "freedom for me but not for thee." The current President is hardly the first racist to occupy the White House; Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson among others, even great reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were deeply and publicly racist. That same racism always informed federal immigration policy beginning with the the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and continuing through the Immigration Act of 1924 inspired by eugenics and all kinds of scientific racism to severely restrict immigration from eastern and southern Europe, from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Those restrictions would not be undone until 1965 when the USA ended legal racial segregation with the Civil Rights Act (only to be replaced by de facto segregation). A new immigration act soon followed that finally opened up the immigration process to non-Europeans.
Lady Liberty's beacon continues to draw the wretched refuse of teeming shores despite walls, brutality, and random gun massacres by homicidal racists. She keeps the Golden Door open as long as she stands in the harbor despite official government policies to slam it shut.
And yet, as deeply racist as the USA has always been, it decisively rejected and destroyed two white supremacist regimes at great cost in blood and treasure; the Confederacy and Nazi Germany. We decided twice not to follow that path to its conclusion.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the governed...
I still believe this even when the United States does not.
In this phrase from the Declaration of Independence is the whole American Revolution. Though penned by a slave owner in an assembly of men determined to create a democracy of white men for white men (with some significant exceptions such as Benjamin Franklin and James Otis), that incendiary phrase started wildfires around the world starting with slave rebellions in Caribbean as soon as the Declaration was published.
I think that today we fail to appreciate just how revolutionary that phrase was in 1776 and for more than a century after. More familiar to Europe and much of the rest of the world from 1776 to 1876 would have been these sentiments by Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet from the beginning of the 18th century:
IT IS GOD who establishes kings...Princes thus act as ministers of God and His lieutenants on earth. It is through them that He rules.... This is why we have seen that the royal throne is not the throne of a man, but the throne of God himself...[kings] are sacred in their office, as being the representatives of the divine majesty, sent by His providence for the execution of His designs.... There is something religious in the respect which one renders the prince. Service of God and respect for kings are things united. St. Peter groups these two duties together: "Fear God. Honor the king." (I Peter 2:17)
When republican Edouard de Laboulaye first read The Declaration of Independence in France in the 1860s, it was illegal to own or publish a copy of it in most of Europe and in much of the world. Governments instituted among Men deriving just powers from the consent of the governed is about as far from the absolutist monarchism articulated by Bishop Bossuet as can be. Most of the world in the1860s agreed more with Bishop Bossuet than with Jefferson. That idea still offends rulers in our age of ideological tyrants who claim to be incarnations of national will. It bothers plutocrats and other oligarchs with their ambitions to buy their way into power and create a paternalist order that reduces citizens to cheap labor, tenants, and debtors while primarily benefiting the ruling owners. That phrase about the equality of all men always tripped up ambitions to create a thoroughly white America. It was that same phrase that inspired Frederick Douglass to work to end slavery within the American system of law. That phrase became Martin Luther King's "promissory note" to African Americans that they too would fully share in Liberty. Women would revise the revise the gendering of the phrase and claim its promise as would other minorities down to our own day.
The Statue of Liberty created by French Abolitionists, made possible by American Jews (Emma Lazarus and Joseph Pulitzer), and fashioned on the occasion of the liberation of African Americans from slavery proclaims the "promissory note" of the Declaration of Independence to all Americans and to all the world.
My photos from 2013 at the beginning of a short cruise to Canada