As we gear up for the celebration of our nation’s birth, many tourists have plans to visit the Statue of Liberty. Four million tourists visit the statue annually. The widespread popularity of this monument has been used to sell everything from liberty bonds during WWI as a way of showing one’s patriotism to insurance, and even apocalyptic disaster movies. But how much do you really know about this national symbol?
Here are some facts:
1) Full Name: Statue of ’Liberty Enlightening The World’.
2) Most schoolchildren are taught that the Statue of Liberty is important because the United States was seen as a land receptive to new immigrants escaping persecution and tyranny. Hence, it is often referred to as the "Mother of Exiles." But this is a modern interpretation.
Today we have a widening definition of what constitutes citizenship.
The ideals expressed by the Statue of Liberty in 1886 did not reflect the reality that minorities faced at this time. Specifically, African-Americans viewed the Statue of Liberty and the ideals that it represented as an act of hypocrisy by the U.S. An editorial in the Cleveland Gazette written in 1886 expressed the misgivings that many had with fresh memories of the Civil War and the injustices of it:
“It is proper that the torch of the Bartholdi statue should not be lighted until this country becomes a free one in reality. ‘Liberty enlightening the world,’ indeed! The expression makes us sick. This government is a howling farce. It cannot or rather does not protect its citizens within its own borders. Shove the Bartholdi statue, torch and all, into the ocean until the ‘liberty’ of this country is such as to make it possible for an industrious and inoffensive colored man in the South to earn a respectable living for himself and family, without being ku-kluxed perhaps murdered, his daughter and wife outraged, and his property destroyed. The idea of the ‘liberty’ of this country ‘enlightening the world,’ or even Patagonia, is ridiculous in the extreme.”
3) Influential players: Edouard Laboulaye and Joseph Pulitzer. Laboulaye was a French professor, abolitionist and expert on the Constitution. Widely considered to be the ideological "father" of the Statue of Liberty, he conceived the initial idea of a monument to commemorate the Union victory of liberty over slavery.
The Statue’s original intent was a political tool to critique the oppressive French political system. By linking France with a sister republic, it became a clear signal to the ruling elites that democratic governance (as opposed to the French Napoleonic dictatorial rule) was the way to go. French intellectuals wanted to strengthen their country, and align themselves with the U.S. to draw France towards a republican style of governance as it was in the throws of political chaos, transitioning towards the Third Republic. At the time, many believed that a republican regime in France was merely "temporary" Laboulaye played a large part into introducing democracy and America to France.
3) Financial Setback
Though the creation of the statue was made possible through donations from French citizens regardless of economic class, it was agreed through congressional approval that the U.S. would accept the statue and, in turn, would pay for the pedestal, but no funds was appropriated by Congress.
Despite efforts made by the Franco-American Union committee, whose job it was to raise funds, it was still short $150,000 while the French were in the midst of completing the Statue. For a year, the 241 crates containing the pre-fabricated sculpture sat idly by. Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant who fought in the Civil War, made his way into American life and became owner of the populist newspaper New York World. He made it his mission to rally the public for funds using the newspaper editorials.
4) Greek Origins
Whereas Laboulaye envisioned a monument to represent democratic freedom, the sculptor Frederic Bartholdi was inspired by Greek antiquity and envisioned the reincarnation of the famed Colossus of Rhodes that existed in Greece over 2,000 years ago. Hence, Emma Lazarus’ famed sonnet New Colossus meshed quite well with Bartholdi’s vision. Ironically, her poem was dedicated ex-post facto, in 1903. The sonnet was found, posthumously, in one of the author’s books in 1903.
5) ‘Goddess of Democracy’
The Statue of Liberty is an iconic and distinctly American symbol representative of democratic freedom and idealism. For this reason, it would explain the popularity of Statue of Liberty and the reason for the worldwide replication of this statue. I’m heartened by like-minded and courageous individuals who have channeled the same uniform spirit of liberty against tyrannical regimes by way of implementing the Statue of Liberty into important social causes. An example is the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989. Chinese art students built a Goddess of Democracy to express their desire for freedom.