Tell people that the iconic Statue of Liberty was inspired by Abraham Lincoln and people will look at you like you’re a statue with two heads. What it was not about, exactly, was immigration, despite Emma Lazarus’s famous poem.
In 1985, a book was published about the Statue of Liberty to commemorate her 100th anniversary. Written by Leslie Allen, it’s title is, “Liberty: The Statue and the Dream.” Beautifully illustrated with incredible photographs, the book tells the entire story of the Statue of Liberty.
On the third page of the first chapter (p. 17), Allen writes:
Officially, the statue came as a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States. It commemorated, according to a plaque on the pedestal, “the alliance of the two Nations in achieving the Independence of the United States of America” and attested “their abiding friendship.” The date ofJuly 4, 1776, inscribed in Roman numerals on the tablet in the statue’s left arm, emphasized the theme. In reality, more recent events in the nation of her origin had brought her into being.
The idea for the monument was already twenty years old. In 1865, as the Civil War ended and Americans approached their centennial, Frenchmen chafed under the regime of Napoleon III, who, like his legendary uncle, had appointed himself Emperor of the French. Among theSecond Empire’s most vocal critics were the “liberals,” or “republicans,” who revered the American model of government.
Their leader was Edouard Rene Lefebre de Laboulaye – jurist, professor of comparative law, and devoted friend of America. He never visited the United States, but he published a three-volume work on it history and a biographical study of Benjamin Franklin. His antislavery tracts, widely read during the Civil War years, put him further at odds with Napoleon, who favored the Confederacy. Seven decades after the French Revolution, its ideal of liberte was a dangerous topic, closely watched by the police and the censors of the press.
Writing about America gave Laboulaye an indirect way of referring to political realities in France. Thus the notion of a sweeping symbolic gesture, to strengthen the liberals’ association with America– and to remind the French of liberty – came naturally to him one evening in 1865 at a dinner party at his home nearVersailles.
Laboulaye’s guests, like himself, were eminent liberals. They had seen in Abraham Lincoln what they admired in theUnited States, and the assassination of the President had prompted an outpouring of grief in France. Laboulaye may well have thought of the words inscribed on a gold medal sent in the name of the French people to Mrs. Lincoln: “Lincoln, man of honor, abolished slavery, restored theUnion, and saved the Republic, without veiling the statue of Liberty.”
As the guests discussed gratitude among nations, Laboulaye invoked the American Revolution and the Frenchmen who died in its service “for the principles that they hoped to see prevail in France and in the world.” He said that if a monument were built in America to honor independence, it ought to be the work of both nations.
This account of the evening was penned years later by [Frederic-Auguste] Bartholdi, who had been one of the guests. The conversation, he wrote, “interested me so deeply that it remained fixed in my memory” – and not surprisingly. The world “monument” was music to the sculptor’s ears, and Bartholdi had the energy to turn ambitious ideas into reality.
[The] collapse of Napoleon’s Empire in 1870 and the founding of theThirdRepublicgave Laboulaye the chance to develop his plans. [By] 1869, Bartholdi had [already] begun his first sketches for his heroic “Liberty.”
Socialists have spent years whitewashing this notion that the Statue of Liberty had anything to do with republicanism (perish the thought!), classic liberalism (a word they would hijack) and sentiments of anti-slavery. They’ve taken every opportunity to beat conservatism over the head with the Statue of Liberty, claiming the statue herself is a symbol of hypocrisy, even though she was only conceived of at the very end of the war by a French abolitionist, and built over 20 years after the war had ended.
Bartholdi’s great personal friend was an American industrialist by the name of Richard Butler, who owned a rubber factor in the hills of northernNew Jersey. The town would eventually be named after him (after a terrific feud with its sister town of Bloomingdale; West Bloomingdale, as Butler was then known, seceded from its union with Bloomingdale, even dividing the town’s musicians into the Butler Cornet Band (which played aboard a boat at the statue’s unveiling) and the Bloomingdale Cornet Band (which did not play at the unveiling). The Butler Silver Cornet Band disbanded; the Bloomingdale is still in existence, being only two years older than the statue herself).
The town of Butler, to honor the famous sculptor, named the street on which most of its schools are located, including the high school,Bartholdi Avenue. Strike up another success for capitalism; Butler joined with other industrialists, investors, and capitalists to raise money for the statue’s pedestal. The New York World sponsored a contest, inviting schoolchildren to donate their pennies to the foundation.
So, on the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, it is interesting to note that she stands on the foundations of charity, capitalism, industry, liberty, and equality, all due to the inspiration of President Abraham Lincoln. Happy Birthday, Lady Liberty!