As Independence Day approaches, we are all preparing for July 4th and a serious “freedom fix”, complete with fire works, flags, red-white-and-blue t-shirts, and BBQs. Many of us begin to think about our freedom, liberty, and what others have done, especially Veterans, for us to have our freedom. Iconic figures and landmarks come to mind, like the Statue of Liberty. We all know something about the Lady Liberty, but how many of us know the entire story behind our country’s landmark which so well represents freedom and liberty in the United States?
[Photos courtesy of the National Park Service - NPS Rangers Rock!]
The idea of the Statue of Liberty was conceived at an elite dinner party in France. The host of the party was Edouard Rene Lefevre de Laboulaye. He was a French intellectual and the leader of a political group opposed to the rule of Napoleon III. Laboulaye gave a talk that evening that included comments about the similarities of the two nations, France and America. He called the two countries “the two sisters”; and made the remark that it would be a wonderful idea if the French gave the Americans a monument that would celebrate and immortalize independence and human liberty. One of the guests at the dinner that evening was Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, a young sculptor from the province of Alsace. His host’s comments sparked the imagination of the artist to create such a monument to independence and to the desire of the French to have liberty as well. At the time, America’s centennial of independence was just 11 years away. Beginning his career as a painter, his sculptures created on a grand scale made him famous. At the young age of 18 he created a huge statue of one of Napoleon’s generals which was 12 feet tall. On a trip to Egypt, he was inspired by the Pyramids and his visions for sculpture went from “simply grand to colossal.”
WHAT PERPETUATED THE DREAM?
Major Bartholdi served in the French Army in the Franco-Prussian War during the 1870’s. The Germans took over the whole of Alsace including his home town of Colmar, and forced the Frence there to become German citizens. Thus the dream of liberty and human freedom that had been burning in his heart since his youth, became even stronger and more personal. When his political mentor, Laboulaye, spoke to him after the war, Laboulaye suggested to Bartholdi that he go to America and attempt to inspire the Americans to partner with France to create a monument that would be an icon of liberty and freedom for both countries and for the world.
At this suggestion, Barholdi said: “I will try to glorify the Republic and Liberty over there, in the hope that someday I will find it again here.”
Politicians Halted the Dream
Bartholdi presented his idea to Americans of importance, wealth, and prestige who were impressed with the idea of the statue; but there was no interest in spending money for it or for contributing a building site. The Third Republic in France had to become a reality in order for the idea to be presented to the French. Because of the tremendous cost of the project, it was proposed that the statue would be financed by France, and American would pay for the foundation and pedestal. Fund-raising projects in France produced enough to complete the statue, but Americans were not sold on the project, and a Congressional bill and a grant allocating funds for the statue were rejected.
The American Citizen Saved the Dream
It was the intervention of Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant and a successful journalist that turned the tide of disinterest. He was owner of two newspapers: the World and the St. Louis Dispatch. When he heard of the project and realized that there was no money to complete it, he started a fund-raising compaign and promoted the concept through his newspapers that the statue was not just for New York, but a symbol for all America. The money began to come in, not from the country’s millionaires; but from the average American citizen, even from the piggybanks of children; and on June 15, 1885, the Statue of Libery arrived at Bedloe’s Island. Richard Morris Hunt, a well-known architect, and General Charles P. Stone, the chief engineer designed and constructed the foundation, pedestal and the reassembly of the statue. After completion, it would take another six months to install the statue upon the new base.
Now, the Statue of Liberty stands as a monument to freedom to the whole world, and this symbol of liberty has special meaning. When sailing into New York Harbor, can you imagine how many hearts have swelled with hope and pride when they first see her?
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