The Goddess of Liberty holds up a torch in her right hand and invites everyone in the world to learn how our nation achieved liberty and prosperity. The scroll she holds in her left hand is inscribed with the date “July 4, 1776”. It symbolizes our Declaration of Independence which delivers this message:
We are all created equal. We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights, we institute governments among ourselves, exercising their just powers with the consent of the governed.
The iconic Statue of Liberty stands at the entrance of New York Harbor. It has been there since 1886. Many people think it was built to welcome immigrants to America. However, it was designed and built for a much different purpose.
On July 4, 1776, America declared its independence by recognizing the “self-evident” truth that we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain “unalienable rights”. Yet “four score and seven” (87) years later, America was fighting a bitter Civil War because 15 of its 34 states still permitted black Americans to be owned, bought, and sold as slaves. In 1865, those Americans fighting to preserve the United States as a single country and to end slavery won that war. Americans then amended their Constitution three times to both end slavery and guarantee equal rights to all Americans,
This inspired Edouard Laboulaye, a prominent political leader in France to recognize America’s achievements. In 1789, France also had a revolution inspired by the American Revolution. France elected leaders who adopted a document called “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”. It was much like America’s Declaration of Independence. However, the French Revolution ended in disaster. It failed to bring liberty and prosperity to France. It instead brought violence, poverty, war, destruction, and dictatorship.
Laboulaye was not alone. For years, many French scholars and political leaders like Alexis De Tocqueville admired how well democracy worked in America and wanted Europeans to learn from us.
Laboulaye spoke to Frederic Bartholdi, a famous French sculptor about building a monument to honor America’s 100th year of independence in 1876. The new monument would celebrate the success of America and urge Europeans to follow our example.
That monument was finally built on an island in New York Harbor in 1886. Its original name was “Liberty Enlightening The World”. In French, it is “La Liberté Eclairant le Monde”. It depicted an image inspired by Libertas, a goddess of freedom worshipped in ancient Rome by slaves who had gained their freedom.
Liberty is facing the Old World of Europe. She is holding a torch in her right hand to light the way and offer freedom and progress to the rest of the world. In her left hand is a scroll the inscription “July 4, 1776”. That scroll represents our Declaration of Independence, the document that created our country. That Declaration found these truths to be “self-evident”:
We are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Finally, the monument depicts the Goddess of Liberty walking over a broken chain. This portrays America as a land of freedom that does not tolerate slavery.
The message of our iconic Statue of Liberty is clear. Oppressed people throughout the world do not need to come to America to enjoy our liberty and prosperity. They are instead invited to be enlightened by our culture and government of liberty. They are invited to embrace them and bring them back to their own countries so they can enjoy liberty and prosperity there.
Click Here For Link To Source: Statue of Liberty – Wikipedia
The Statue of Liberty did not become known as a symbol for immigrants until years later. Between 1880 and 1920, there was intense debate over whether America should limit the number of immigrants coming to our country. Supporters of limits claimed that massive immigration was unsustainable and causing low wages, overcrowding, crime, and political violence. Opponents of such limits claimed that America had a moral duty to accept all immigrants.
In 1901, fifteen years after the “Liberty Enlightening The World” built, supporters of unlimited immigration placed a plaque on a wall inside the pedestal of the statute. That plaque included words from a poem called “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. That poem depicted the Statue of Liberty as “The Mother of Exiles” welcoming immigrants to America. Click Here For Link To Source: Emma Lazarus – Statue Of Liberty National Monument (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
That is how most Americans today view that statue. However, it was not the original meaning.
World War One disrupted shipping and stopped most immigration to America in 1914. This caused a shortage of labor. Wages rose and unemployment ended. Factory owners invested in new machines that made Americans the most productive and best paid workers in the world. This boosted support for immigration limits when the war ended.
In 1920, America adopted new laws that only allowed roughly 200,000 immigrants to legally come to America each year. Because of these limits, the full employment and high wages that began in 1914 continued. Factory owners built even more efficient machines and assembly lines. American workers continued to be the best paid and most productive workers in the world. Our prosperous middle class became the envy of the world, even during the Great Depression.
Today, labor unions take credit for this. However, unions had nothing to do with ending the low wages, long hours, and child labor that America had before 1914. This change took place when labor unions in America where weak, almost insignificant, and when membership was declining. Union membership did not increase until various New Deal laws promoted union membership during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Many historians have written that these New Deal laws needlessly prolonged the Great Depression.
These immigration limits continued until 1965. In 1965, America completely scrapped the immigration limits that had worked so well for 45 years. Those new laws increased immigration to roughly one million per year. They also required that most immigrants be from poor countries in Africa, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean. Because of this massive immigration, many immigrants lived in separate towns and neighborhoods and did not learn English. This caused massive illegal immigration, since it was now difficult to determine which immigrants were here legally. America now has the same problems of low wages, poverty, crime, and political violence that we had with unlimited immigration from the 1880s until World War One.
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