Lady Liberty ‘Enlightening the World’
NEW YORK—The Statue of Liberty, personification of our nation, reopens today, on the 237th anniversary of the nation’s independence. Standing 151 feet tall from base to torch, and comprised of 300 copper pieces, the statue has stood in the harbor since 1886, ten years after it was conceived of as a centennial gift from the French people celebrating America’s independence.
With the Union’s victory in the Civil War affirming the existence of the United States as a unified polity and bringing an end to institutionalized slavery, French abolitionist and U.S. Constitution expert Édouard de Laboulaye proposed that a great gift be made to the American people in recognition of these achievements, as well as to commemorate the alliance between France and the United States during the Revolutionary War. In 1870, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, an avid proponent of de Laboulaye’s idea, began designing a monument representing American liberal values, La Liberté éclairant le monde (Liberty Enlightening the World).
Fundraising for Lady Liberty’s colossal depiction was a combined effort. Bartholdi and de Laboudaye, apart from proposing and designing the sculpture, were both actively involved in promoting financial and political support on both sides of the Atlantic for the centennial gift. While the project served at once to commend President Lincoln and the American nation for their progress towards human equality, it was also the hope of de Laboudaye that the people of France could peacefully implement the same liberal democratic ideals.
Liberty represents simultaneously the ideal of the nation as well as the hope of people all over the world. For Americans, she depicts our founding spirit and reinforcement of the knowledge that this spirit is an unalterable characteristic with implications beyond mere political affiliation. For the rest of the world, particularly for nations and groups suffering under oppressive regimes, she presents an enduring promise that the ideal, avowed on the North American continent two centuries before, shall one day be fulfilled and enjoyed by all worldwide.
Though it was intended for the statue to be completed and opened in time for the 100th anniversary of American independence in 1876, financial difficulties delayed the opening by ten years. The statue herself was built in Paris in 1884 and shipped to the United States the following year, during which time funds had finally been procured for the base or pedestal on which Lady Liberty stands. After all this, plus a four-month reassembly period, the statue was dedicated on October 28th, 1886, with thousands of spectators present at its opening.
In the one and a quarter century since the embodiment of Liberty was erected in New York Harbor, the sculpture has been opened, closed, reopened, renovated, aged, and improved as she makes her journey from one era to the next. Her majestic figure towering above the waters has been seen by millions of people, notably the immigrant multitudes arriving from the Old World in what was commonly a newcomer’s first glimpse of the continent. The statue was thus recognized both nationally and internationally as an apt representation of the United States and that for which it stands.