At over 300 feet tall, the Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic monuments in the United States. The colossal statue is famously positioned on a tiny island off the coast of New York City. With her tall, proud stance, Lady Liberty is a widely known symbol for freedom, strength, and of course for the United States.
In fact, the island where Lady Liberty stands, called Liberty Island, is close to the former immigration center known as Ellis island. For those who immigrated to America between 1886 and 1994, the Statue of Liberty was an emotional sight that they had made it to the city of their dreams.
Ironically, Lady Liberty is an immigrant herself. It is sometimes easy to forget that the Statue of Liberty was actually a gift to the United States from France. This fascinating fact leaves many wondering how — and why — France gifted the iconic Lady Liberty to America.
In addition to symbolizing America, Lady Liberty represents the alliance and friendship between France and the United States. Let’s look at the vibrant history between the two nations that prompted France to give the Statue of Liberty.
The history of the Statue of Liberty can be traced all the way back to the American Revolution. During this time, the 13 colonies of America fought for their independence from the oppressive British Crown.
The growing unity among the colonies, taxes without representation, and lack of basic freedoms drove the colonies to revolt. The war against Great Britain broke out in 1775. The chances of the ill-equipped colonies winning against such a huge world power seemed bleak.
But luckily for the Americans, the Kingdom of France had been in a long-standing feud with Britain. Having shared this common enemy, France began to secretly ship supplies to the Continental Army of the colonies, in hope that Americans would succeed in gaining independence from the British. For the French, the Colonies’ victory would be the perfect revenge.
Finally, a Treaty of Alliance was signed between the French and Continental Army in 1778. Following this, money, weaponry, and troops were shipped to the Colonies.
France’s involvement in the American Revolution gave way to the United States’ eventual victory and independence. Their allyship during this war was essential.
It inspired many French people to strive for the similar values Americans were fighting for: freedom, independence, and a republic.
Edouard de Laboulaye
By 1865, a man by the name of Edouard de Laboulaye came up with an inspirational concept.
As an idealistic political thinker, Laboulaye envisioned a beautiful monument that would celebrate the alliance of America and France during the American Revolution.
To Laboulaye, this monument would be cherished by the two countries, honor the late Abraham Lincoln, and symbolize freedom and democracy.
Most importantly, Laboulaye hoped that this statue would inspire France to be free from the oppressive Second French Empire and seek its own democracy.
However, forming a democratic government was not a widespread ideal in France. During this period of emerging enlightenment, the country was divided between those who wanted the enlightening ideals of a democracy and those still supporting the monarchy.
While these polarizing opinions made proposing a symbolic statue difficult, it also made Laboulaye’s mission all the more important.
Luckily for Laboulaye, his sculptor friend Auguste Bartholdi was on board with his idea for the American monument. Bartholdi was a great artist who had recently finished a sculpture of Laboulaye himself.
Bartholdi had similar political values as Laboulaye and began working with him to design the statue. After waiting ten years for the perfect time and brushing shoulders with the right people, the daunting project was formally announced in 1875.
However, this project was not met with unanimous praise. In the 19th century, many associated the word liberty (la liberté) with revolution (la révolte) which usually included violence (la violence).
To ask for liberty was like asking for uprisings and disorder. This association was for good reason— In 1871, uprisings from middle and working class people began which was soon shut down by the government.
This chaotic time led many to criticize Laboulaye; they feared his ideas would lead to more distress, more uprisings, and more violence.
To combat this, Laboulaye and Bartholdi designed the statue to convey that liberty was not about leading a violent uprising; rather, it was about lighting the way forward with peace.
This is why it was named Liberty Enlightening the World. The imagery of the statue was their way of showcasing that liberty and peace can be achieved together.
In order to make their idea a reality, Laboulaye and Bartholdi went to New York City to talk to influential individuals and make sure that they wanted the statue in the first place.
The reality of funding also came into view: The men realized that they needed the US to fund the platform for the statue. This meant that this monument would have to be more of a collaborative effort between France and the US. The countries would need to work together to make it a reality.
Bartholdi began working on the statue and had hoped to complete it by 1876, but the project took longer than expected and fell years behind schedule.
The arm and torch were the first to be finished, soon followed by the head. The head alone was showcased at the Paris World’s Fair in 1878. Slowly but surely, Lady Liberty was assembled.
In 1884, after 9 years of construction, almost everything was completed. Everything except for the base where the statue would stand on, that is.
Through over 200 crates containing parts of the statue, France sent over the statue and hoped the US would be able to finish the pedestal. It was an expensive structure, so there would have to be funding efforts in place for the US to be able to afford it.
The crates containing the statue were stacked up together beside the statue’s designated spot, waiting to be assembled. The final construction of the pedestal required 100,000 dollars, money that they just didn’t have.
Luckily, Joseph Pulitzer, creator of the Pulitzer prize, became involved with the project. He came up with an ingenious way to get the money— by involving the American people. Pulitzer utilized everyday newspapers to bring awareness to the monument and ran a campaign asking for donations.
The campaign was successful, and finally, enough money was raised. The pedestal for the statue was finally constructed by the United States and the rest of the statue was assembled. Finally, on October 28th, 1886, Lady Liberty was fully completed.
Eager audiences were brought to tears at the sight of the statue. Originally a gold-brown color, the statue must have glimmered beautifully in the sunlight.
Since France’s help during the American Revolution to the construction beginning in 1876, the Statue of Liberty was a gift that took many years to create.
Standing tall and proud, Lady Liberty still lights the way hundreds of years later. While many know her as an American landmark, she truly stands for the alliance between two countries and their aligned hope for a better future.
Without Laboulaye’s vision for a better France, this inspirational American statue would never exist.