Letter: The full story about America’s beacon of freedom


While viewing the Statue of Liberty with her daughter, your June 22 editorial cartoon mother wonders, “What do I tell her this means?“ That’s a good question, but I wonder if the cartoonist knows the real answer.

The construction of a French monument for the United States was first proposed in 1865 by Édouard de Laboulaye, a French anti-slavery activist who believed that the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence bore fruit in the Civil War and subsequent 13th Amendment. With help from friend and sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, his proposal began to take shape in 1875, when the Franco-American Union began to raise funds for a statue to be named “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

As a beacon of individual liberty, De Laboulaye hoped the statue would help his cause to restore democracy to France.

“Liberty Enlightening the World” was dedicated on October 28, 1886. The only inscription was on the tablet held in Liberty’s left hand, which reads “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776), the date the Declaration of Independence was signed.

So, what of the incessant repetition of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?”

When the statue was delivered from France, the pedestal was not yet complete due to lack of funds. One fundraising auction included a sonnet by poet Emma Lazarus, titled “New Colossus,” composed specifically for the occasion. The fundraiser was a success. The poem, however, did not get much press.

After Ms. Lazarus’s death, a campaign to memorialize her sonnet succeeded, and a plaque was added to the statue’s pedestal. Here is the complete poem:

New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus

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-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What is often forgotten today is that when this poem was written, much of Europe was still ruled by despots whose position of absolute authority was hereditary. Thus, “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” is a reference to the sad plight most of those living in the “ancient lands” still endured.

They were, in their time and place, the deplorables.

David Perrell



Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

FramkC 9 months ago

Hay! The truth is that she was to stand at the Suez Canal, a cast off herself from the Egypt so to speak. Her history is so much more than is told, to read. Link: https://blogs.voanews.com/all-about-a...">https://blogs.voanews.com/all-about-a...


davidp 9 months ago

When Bartholdi visited Egypt 1867 to study monuments, he would have been aware of both the Colossus of Rhodes and the lighthouse at Alexandria, two of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. But his unsuccessful pitch to Isma'il Pasha (Turkish viceroy) for a monumental re-imagining of the ancient lighthouse to mark the opening of the Suez Canal occurred after the 1865 proposal by Édouard de Laboulaye for a monument to freedom in the U.S., at a gathering Bartholdi attended. To say the current statue was intended for Egypt is misleading.

Some claim the model for Liberty's face was Bartoldi's mother, others claim it was the mute and mentally ill brother Bartholdi spent much time caring for. To me, the face looks a lot like the depiction of the goddess Libertas on a 42BC Roman coin. Whatever, Libertas as symbol for the U.S. wasn't a new idea. She's appeared on U.S. coins since 1794.

Some are now trying to twist history with claims Lady Liberty is a Muslim woman. That's nonsense. No Muslim woman modeled for Bartholdi's original sketches. Those pitching this politically-motivated "new reality" are not to be believed.

Here's a timeline for the statue: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/statueofl...">http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/statueofl...


davidp 9 months ago

Isma'il Pasha was a modernist reformer, but I doubt he could've bought Bartholdi's proposal if he wanted to. Egypt was in debt to Turkey. It's also questionable how a monstrous image of a freed slave girl would have been seen by Egyptian Muslims for whom idolotry is proscribed (the Sphinx was defaced by a Muslim long before Napoleon came on the scene). Isma'il did not eliminate slavery in Egypt or the Sudan. Islamic law does not proscribe slavery.


sacpkd 9 months ago

David, thank you for your intellectual diligence and clarity.