Statue of Liberty
What Is Right With America? Liberty!
In a remarkably short speech on October 28, 1886, Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty. It was ironic that Cleveland was the president to dedicate the statue. While serving as the Governor of New York, he had vetoed legislation authorizing $50,000.00 in public funds be used to construct the base of the statue. Congress had also refused to pass a $100,000.00 appropriation bill. Instead, the funds were raised privately. Much of the funding was organized by publisher Joseph Pulitzer who did so by listing the names of all those who donated to the “pedestal fund” regardless of the size of the donation.
The words of President Cleveland were as follows:
“We are not here today to bow before the representation of a fierce warlike god, filled with wrath and vengeance, but we joyously contemplate instead our own deity keeping watch and ward before the open gates of America and greater than all that have been celebrated in ancient song. Instead of grasping in her hand thunderbolts of terror and of death, she holds aloft the light which illumines the way to man’s enfranchisement.
We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home, nor shall her chosen altar be neglected. Willing votaries will constantly keep alive its fires and these shall gleam upon the shores of our sister Republic thence, and joined with answering rays a stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression, until Liberty enlightens the world.”
Liberty is a concept which is near and dear to the heart of most Americans. What did the Founding Fathers have to say about it? Here are just a few of their more notable statements:
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” – Patrick Henry
“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” – Thomas Jefferson
“But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” – John Adams
“Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.” – Samuel Adams
“Shame on the men who can court exemption from present trouble and expense at the price of their own posterity’s liberty!” – Samuel Adams
“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.” – Samuel Adams
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissensions, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” – George Washington
Please take a moment today to think about the liberty that we have been blessed with in our country. As President Cleveland stated, “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home.” We must cherish the liberties that those before us fought so hard to retrain. We must stand up to tyranny whenever it presents itself. We must preserve the Liberty that is so much a part of the fabric of America for our children and their children as well. The continued liberty guaranteed to every American is definitely What IS Right With America!
What IS Right With America? Liberty Enlightening the World
Have you ever received a gift? A wonderful gift, but a gift that nonetheless that carried a few strings with it?
What may have begun as an idea developed during an after-dinner conversation was transformed into a statue that is more than 150 feet in height with a torch that has welcomed immigrants to our nation for more than 150 years. We know the statue, of course, as the Statue of Liberty.
The phrase “Liberty Enlightening the World” is actually the name for the monument we know as the Statue of Liberty. The statue was created by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. I had always heard that the Statue of Liberty was given to the United States as a gift from France to mark our centennial in 1876. However, the course of events which raised Lady Liberty’s torch more than 300 feet above the New York Harbor are a bit more complicated.
Edouard Rene de Laboulaye was a law professor in France who wrote poetry and published several works about the United States. He was also an abolitionist who was delighted with the Union Victory of our Civil War. He purportedly floated the idea of a monument created for the United Sates to his friend Augusts Bartholdi. Laboulaye’s vision was of a statue which honored our ideals of freedom and unalienable rights. He hoped that such a project would also promote the democratic movement in France.
There were several high hurdles which had to be overcome in order for Laboulaye’s idea to become a reality. The one I will discuss today is funding. Eventually, Laboulaye proposed that the French would fund the statue itself, while the Americans would pay for the pedestal that would eventually rest on Bedloe’s Island. The Statue of Liberty was not officially given to the people of the United States by the people of France. There was no influx of governmental funding to see the project through to its completion. The funds were primarily raised through public donation. Laboulaye, and other proponets in France, arranged for special fundraising events such as a performance of a new cantata by Charles Gounod at the Paris Opera in April 1876. He was also able to arrange for most of the 200,000 pounds of copper to be donated by French copper merchants and industrialists.
The United States was still struggling economically after the Civil War, and a fundraising project of that nature was an uphill battle. Additionally, there was a fair amount of grumbling that Americans had to foot the bill for the pedestal required to hold a “gift.” Unlike what might occur today, governmental officials would not fund this type of project. Grover Cleveland, then the New York Governor, vetoed $50,000.00 in funding for the statue’s pedestal. Democrats in the Congress would not agree to a $100,000.00 appropriation for completion of the project in 1885. Yet, American ingenuity would see the project through to its completion.
In 1881, a group known as “The American Committee of the Statue of Liberty” had formed to raise the funds necessary to create a pedestal for the Statue, as well as to pay for its placement in the harbor. Members of the committee included: Senator William Evarts, Frederic Bartholdi, Richard Butler, Henry Spaulding, Levi Parsons Morton, and Joseph Pulitzer. One of the most notable fundraising events was an auction which produced Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus.” More about that in a future post. Despite the committee’s efforts, donations were slow to trickle into the fund. At the time that the Congress refused to appropriate funds to complete the project, the committee had only $3,000.00 in its coffers. It seemed that New York might lose the statue to either the cities of Philadelphia or Boston which were willing to fund the project. However, Joseph Pulitzer was not willing to give up. He announced that his newspaper, “The World” would publish the name of everyone who contributed to the project – no matter how big or small the amount of the donation. Stories began to surface of children who donated a dollar, sixty cents, or as little as a nickel to help build Lady Liberty’s new home. A donation of $1.35 from a kindergarten class in Iowa arrived by mail. Donation from such diverse sources as taverns and a home for recovering alcoholics donated began to steadily flow into “The World.” By August, 1885, an announcement in “The World” boasted that 120,000 donors had contributed more than $102,000.00! The most amazing aspect of this story was that more than three quarters of the donations were made in amounts smaller than one dollar.
More about this fascinating American symbol in my next post. The attached image is a 1909 photograph of Wilbur Wright flying by the Statue of Liberty. Wright attached a canoe to the bottom of the plan in the off chance that a water landing would be necessary!
Please take a moment to consider what was accomplished when the citizens of New York, and indeed citizens across the United States, began to pull together. It was not a small group of affluent donors who funded the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. It was a large group of citizens who chose to give a bit of themselves that facilitated the project’s completion. It is when we band together than we can truly see What IS Right With America!
What IS Right With America? “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
You may know that the phrase “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” is connected with the Statue of Liberty, but do you know how the connection between the statue and the poem evolved?
The Statue of Liberty, itself, was given to the United States as a gift from France in honor of its centennial. However, private funds had to be raised in order to create a pedestal for the statue. That would be more than $100,000 dollars of private funds in the 1880’s when many in the United States were struggling to economically recover from the Civil War. The American Committee of the Statue of Liberty raised money for the pedestal in a number of ways including an auction of literary works and pieces of art. The question became how to find artists and writers who were willing to donate their work?
Enter Emma Lazarus. Ms. Lazarus was a Sephardic Jew of Portuguese descent, and she spent much of her time working with Jewish immigrants from Russia who were detained at Castle Garden. While the name might sound somewhat bucolic, the facility was located within The Battery of New York City and served as an immigration depot during the late nineteenth century. Although conditions for those immigrating to the United States had improved from what existed earlier in the century, immigrants continued to be transported in overcrowded and unkempt vessels. Local residents were not happy about the establishment of Castle Garden, and attacked its existence not only in local media but often physically as well.
Lazarus was not only a volunteer, but a poet as well. She was approached by William Maxwell Evarts to contribute a poem to the fundraising effort for the pedestal. Although she had little interest in the project, her friend Constance Cary Harrison convinced her that the statue would be an important first sight for immigrants as they entered the New York harbor. She had enough familiarity with Bartholdi’s conception of the statue that her poem began by referencing the Colossus of Rhodes. It then went on to reshape Lady Liberty into the “Mother of Exiles.” In one poem, with fourteen short lines, the colossal statue was transformed from a representation of a core principle upon which the nation was founded, into a beckoning light for those who sought freedom and opportunity not available to them in their homeland.
Lazarus died four years after writing the poem. She was a mere 38 years old. “The New Colossus” received little attention after it was read at the auction which was held at New York’s Academy of Design on December 3, 1883. It was Georgina Schuyler, a friend of Lazarus, who managed to have the text of the poem placed on a bronzed plaque and placed in the lower level of the Statue of Liberty. As time passed, the Statue of Liberty came to be less associated with the concept of liberty, itself, and more connected to the idea of welcoming new immigrants into the land of promise and opportunity.
Read the powerful imagery and message created by Lazarus in her poem “The New Colossus”:
“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!”
Please take a moment to consider that the United States of America is indeed a country which offers freedom and opportunity to those who seek it. While we currently struggle to resolve issues concerning illegal immigration, our cultural fabric has been enriched by a history of opening our doors to those who are willing to strive for personal success though hard work and personal responsibility. It is one of the aspects of What IS Right with America.