Thu, Aug. 22

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


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