“The idea of the ‘liberty’ of this country
‘enlightening the world,’
or even Patagonia,
is ridiculous in the extreme!”
~The Cleveland Gazette (Editorial)
Liberal philosophy would have us believe that the Statue of Liberty was created as some kind of invitation to any old “huddled masses” on the planet to come live in America, no strings attached – except of course to vote Democratic. Liberals seem to believe that the statue, and the poem attached to its base were created at the same time, and that the two ideas are one and the same.
Which is why they are so angry with President Trump’s suggestion that our immigration policy should be skewed to those immigrant hopefuls who can actually enrich our nation in some tangible way. In other words, people who will not drain our resources and who will probably not vote Democratic.
On the other hand, some folks think this Verdigris Lady by the Bay may actually represent a kind of Trojan Horse gifted to us by the French. Here’s the real story:
In 1865, almost a century after America’s Declaration of Independence, French law professor and politician Édouard René de Laboulaye, apparently made an unofficial gesture, I suspect at a French State dinner attended by the ghost of Ben Franklin, that any monument raised to American independence would most properly be a joint project of the French and American peoples. Perhaps the Union victory in America’s Civil War and liberté for America’s slaves spurred his generous gesture. Or perhaps it had something to do with France’s seeking America’s help in getting permission to build the Panama Canal? (France began actual work on the Canal in 1881, but was stymied by engineering problems and disease. The US completed the canal, which was officially opened in August, 1914.)
Word of de Laboulaye’s gallant gesture soon reached French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi who decided to fashion just such a monument. Bartholdi’s hometown in Alsace had just passed into German control in the Franco-Prussian War, probably influencing his own thoughts on independence, liberty, and self-determination. The sculptor’s early models were all similar in concept: a statuesque robed female figure in neoclassical style after Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, wearing the stola and pella (gown and cloak of Roman goddesses). She bears a torch and a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. The lighted torch is a welcoming signal to immigrants (or is it the wind-blown mane of a sneaky stallion? A bit more background before we get to that).
It is not readily visible, but a heavy broken chain symbolizing the freeing of America’s slaves lies at her feet. Miss Liberty’s rather stern face was modeled after that of Charlotte Beysser Bartholdi, the sculptor’s mother. Momma Charlotte, stern symbol of liberty and of the United States. Oh, ma mère!
Well, the whole idea wasn’t exactly embraced by Americans. There was criticism both of Bartholdi’s proposed design (“Shouldn’t it be designed by a natural born citizen of the U.S.?” critics asked) ...and this “gift” required Americans to foot the bill for a large and expensive pedestal. It might have gone over much better if she looked like Bridget Bardot, held a menu, and hoisted a bottle of vintage grenache noir. But alas, looking a Trojan Gift Horse squarely in the mouth, debate raged on in America for many years.
Meanwhile, designer Bartholdi was busy with other projects. Perhaps he thought, well, if those unwashed Americans don’t appreciate my fantastic design (which he actually patented!), I’ll look elsewhere for some other saps. Thus, he approached Isma’il Pasha, Egypt’s Viceroy of the Sultan of Turkey, with a proposal to build a huge lighthouse in the same fashion as our Miss Liberty. Now she was dolled-up like an ancient Egyptian, still sheathed with the copper robe and holding a torch aloft. She was to be erected at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal, at Port Said. Sketches and dimensional models were made of the proposed work. Cleverly, Bartholdi had based his proposal on one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes, an enormous bronze statue of the Greek god, Helios, destroyed by a massive earthquake in 225 BC. The Colossus is believed to have been just under 100 feet high, and stood at the harbor entrance at Rhodes, guiding ships into the harbor. To his chagrin, Bartholdi’s proposal was politely rejected.
Fundraising for our statue began in 1882. Poet Emma Lazarus was asked to donate an original work as part of an art auction dedicated to the cause. She initially declined, stating she could not write a poem about a statue. Maybe she didn’t like Bartholdi’s mother either. But being that Emma was involved in aiding refugees to New York who had fled anti-Semitic pogroms in eastern Europe, and who were living in deplorable conditions which the wealthy Lazarus had never experienced, she saw a way to express her empathy for these refugees: the Statue of Liberty. Her sonnet, “The New Colossus,” includes the iconic lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” which have become uniquely identified with the Statue of Liberty, and inscribed on a plaque at its base. But the very next line of Emma’s tome starts to remind us of today’s immigration problems; “The wretched refuse of your teeming shores.”
“The wretched refuse.” Such a poetic description of our immigrant forebears.
Fundraising for the yet-to-be-built pedestal lagged. Grover Cleveland, then governor of New York, vetoed a bill to provide $50,000 for the statue project in 1884. An attempt to have Congress provide $100,000 failed when Democratic representatives, always champions of liberty and freedom, would not agree to the appropriation. The New York committee, with only $3,000 in the till, suspended work on the pedestal. Groups from Boston and Philadelphia, among others, offered to pay the full cost of erecting the statue in return for relocating it, naturally, to their dominions.
Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, a New York newspaper, announced a drive to raise the $100,000 (about $3 million in today’s dollars). Pulitzer pledged to print the name of every contributor, no matter how small their donation.
Five months later, in the summer of 1885, the World announced $102,000 had been raised from 120,000 donors, 80 percent of the total having been received in sums of less than one dollar! No, it was not completely funded by hundreds of thousands of grammar school kids who each donated a penny or two; but there were many schools, both here and in France, whose students did donate what they could.
Meanwhile, the statue itself was being constructed in France. The engineering specified copper sheeting, folded in a newly discovered technique which allowed the sheets to be thinner (just 2.4 mm!) thus using less material and lightening the big girl’s weight. The copper came from multiple sources; some of it may even have come from a mine in Norway. According to Cara Sutherland, in her book on the Statue, 200,000 pounds of copper were called for. French copper industrialist Eugène Secrétan donated 128,000 pounds. Historian Yasmin Khan, states that the firm of Japy Frères, copper merchants, donated a good deal of the copper, which today would be valued around $354,000.
When completed, the gal’s parts were crated and shipped to America by ocean freighter. 200,00 people lined the New York docks, and hundreds of boats put to sea to welcome the Isère and her curvaceous copper cargo.
The statue was carefully assembled on the completed pedestal, located on what was then called Bedloe’s Island. Completion of the Statue was marked by New York’s first ticker-tape parade and a ceremony of dedication was held on the afternoon of October 28, 1886. Again presiding over the huge event was Grover Cleveland, but this time as President of The United States. A painting by Edward Moran gives us some idea of what a grand event this must have been.
Interestingly, over the years, the statue’s exterior surface began to show copper’s usual verdigris colored oxidation. At first, the plan was to remove the oxidation and completely paint the exterior, but chemical testing revealed the verdigris actually offered some protection to the copper surfaces, so her painting was left to nature, accounting for the statue’s beautiful bright green color.
Shortly after the dedication, The Cleveland Gazette, an African-American newspaper, suggested that the statue’s torch not be lit until the United States became a free nation “in reality.”
The Gazette editorialized “ ‘Liberty enlightening the world,’ indeed! The expression makes us sick.” Keep in mind this was just about twenty years after the freeing of America’s African-American slaves.
The Gazette editorial continued, “This government is a howling farce. It can not or rather does not protect its citizens within its own borders.” (Do you begin to hear the Trojan Horse whinnying?) The Gazette declared; “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 inoffensive and industrious colored man to earn a respectable living for himself and family... The idea of the ‘liberty’ of this country ‘enlightening the world,’ or even Patagonia, is ridiculous in the extreme!”
And speaking of the ridiculous, while the Statue and its island are actually on the Jersey side of the NJ/NY border, the Statue is considered to be New York territory. This is most odious, rather gauche, lending an air of unseemliness to the whole affair.
Trojan Horse? In his important work, Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl recommended “That the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
“Freedom,” he insists, “Is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth... Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
Because of liberal philosophy, perhaps better described as obsession, Miss Liberty’s gracious “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” has been overly broadly interpreted as an invitation to anyone, the wretched refuse from anywhere, to come to America to enjoy not only our liberté, but all the unearned free benefits showered upon today’s immigrants, legal or not. While supporters assault dissenters with charges of racism, elitism, lack of sympathy for children, stinginess and a whole host of propaganda, the time has long passed when Americans will fall for that disingenuous liberal baloney. We all know uneducated immigrants are invited here for the exclusive purpose of increasing voter base for Democrats, whose operating theory of democracy is that in most cases (though perhaps not in our most recent Presidential Election) it only takes a tiny bit more than half the vote to gain re-election. Forever. Unfortunately it appears to many of us that Republican leaders don’t much object to the invitations either, because immigrants represent an unending flow of low-wage workers. Although recent government statistics suggest vast numbers of today’s illegal immigrants do not seek to work.
Today, the French are learning the hard way that liberté sans responsabilité eventually leads to cultural chaos and even economic collapse. Under the weight of masses of the under-educated, culturally alienated, wretched refuse, America’s economy too approaches crisis.
Today’s illegal immigrants are not the legal European immigrants of the past two centuries, whose industriousness and drive successfully blended the best of their cultures with America’s. In the great era of European emigration to America (about 1890 to 1930) the total number of immigrants from all European nations, was only about 7 million. This new brand of illegal immigrant arrives with ingratitude and no apparent desire to be Americanized in the “melting pot.” The wretched refuse now brings with it the very cultures – many antithetical to the very idea of liberty for their own people – from which it runs in fear and desperation.
Perhaps the old Cleveland Gazette call to “Shove the Bartholdi statue, torch and all, into the ocean...” was a bit extreme, but in today’s circumstances it might be worth considering snuffing the torch for awhile. Until we can absorb or integrate, or educate, or repatriate those millions of poor, huddled masses yearning to get free stuff.
(The Statue of Responsibility is a proposed national monument structure to be built on the West Coast. The prototype, sculpted by project artist Gary Lee Price, symbolizes primarily the responsibility that comes with liberty.)