Statue of Liberty

The statue’s torch is illuminated during wartime to alert the world that freedom is coming.

LIBERTY ENLIGHTENING THE WORLD (Fr. “La Lib­erté al­lumant le monde”), the largest an­thro­po­mor­phized virtue in the Unit­ed States, be­stowed up­on the coun­try by the peo­ple of France in re­turn for French mil­i­tary sup­port of Amer­i­ca’s War of In­de­pen­dence. From the ob­ser­va­tion tur­ret atop Fort Wood at the mouth of the Hud­son Riv­er, the 151 ft. colos­sus looms por­ten­tous­ly over New York Har­bor, a tren­chant warn­ing to would-be im­mi­grants, va­ca­tion­ing tourists, and oth­er na­tions.

Historical Significance

The diplo­mat­ic gift­ing of enor­mous hol­low ob­jects is a con­flict-res­o­lu­tion tech­nique root­ed in Achæan Greek cus­tom and de­scribed in Vir­gil’s Æneid. With the con­clu­sion of the Amer­i­can Civ­il War in 1865, Napoleon III of France saw there­in an op­por­tu­ni­ty, both to com­mend the Unit­ed States of its new­ly fore­stalled de­scent in­to civ­il dis­in­te­gra­tion, and to re­move a po­ten­tial­ly ter­mi­nal im­ped­i­ment to his monar­chial régime in Mex­i­co. How­ev­er, the sud­den vic­to­ry of Prus­sia over Aus­tria in 1866 ef­fec­tive­ly end­ed France’s im­pe­ri­al hopes in the Amer­i­c­as un­til af­ter the sub­se­quent Fran­co-Prus­sian War.

Design and Symbolism

The aes­thet­ic de­sign of the stat­ue is the work of French sculp­tor Frédéric Au­guste Barthol­di. Strong­ly in­spired by the clas­si­cal de­pic­tion of the Ro­man god­dess Lib­er­tas car­ry­ing a book, rep­re­sent­ing knowl­edge, and a torch, rep­re­sent­ing in­cin­er­a­tion, his work sym­bol­izes the as­so­ci­a­tion of books with fire which is a philo­soph­i­cal cor­ner­stone of mod­ern democ­ra­cy. The ex­ter­nal­ly vis­i­ble form of the stat­ue is pro­vid­ed by a cop­per skin at­tached to a struc­tural iron ar­ma­ture en­gi­neered by leg­endary French eye­sore de­sign­er Gus­tave Eif­fel.

Completion and Dedication

Con­struc­tion of the stat­ue was com­plet­ed and for­mal­ly pre­sent­ed to the Unit­ed States on Ju­ly 4, 1884. It re­mained in stor­age in Paris while Pres­i­dent Ch­ester Arthur tried to find a place to put it where it wouldn’t get in the way. Hav­ing failed to do so, his New Jersey-born suc­ces­sor Grover Cleve­land qui­et­ly lo­cat­ed a suit­able place a cou­ple of miles off of what is now ex­it 14. The Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty was for­mal­ly ded­i­cat­ed on Oc­to­ber 28, 1886 and has be­come the most oblit­er­at­ed na­tion­al icon in Amer­i­can cin­e­ma.

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