What’s Your Symbol of Freedom and Democracy?

Have you stood at the feet of the colossal copper statue on Staten Island in New York? “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” given to the United States by the people of France is recognized as a “universal symbol of freedom and democracy.” 

Photo of the face and head of the Statue of Liberty, a universal symbol of freedom and Democracy

Awestruck to Confused

I have always seen myself as a patriot. (You may have guessed this would be the case if you’ve read my Fourth of July posts.) Growing up, my family visited many of our nation’s historically important sites. As a grade-schooler, I stood awestruck at the feet of Miss Liberty. The sight filled me with a national pride that “my” people welcomed everyone. It said so on the bronze plaque on the pedestal. 

Image of the plaque inscribed with Emma Lazarus's sonnet "The New Colossus" placed on the Statue that is the symbol of freedom and democracy.

By photographer – NPS, Poem Emma Lazarus – U.S. National Park Service , Public Domain

“The New Colossus

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus

Today, I am confused and upset by the hostility immigrants to the United States face. How did we go from welcoming to shunning and imprisoning immigrants? When I’m confused about something, I try to educate myself about that situation. This is the first of a series of posts exploring the history of U.S. Immigration laws and attitudes.

Birth of the Statue of Liberty

According to the National Parks Service, a French political intellectual and anti-slavery activist named Edouard de Laboulaye proposed, in 1865, that the French build a statue representing liberty for the United States. This monument would honor the United States’ centennial of independence and friendship with France. French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi began designing the statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World” in 1870.

Then in 1871, Bartholdi took a trip to the United States and selected Bedloe’s Island as the site for the Statue. It was a small island but to Bartholdi it was the “gateway to America.” Every ship entering New York Harbor would see the statue on that island.


They began construction in 1875. Gustave Eiffel built the statue’s metal framework.

Photo of the head of the Statue of Liberty on display at the Paris Exposition of 1878
The head of the Statue of Liberty on display at the Paris Exposition of 1878.
By Albert Fernique – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a53268. Public Domain,

The United States Congress approved the use of Bedloe Island (renamed Liberty Island in 1956) for the statue.

Then in 1884, construction of the pedestal began in the U.S.

For nine years, crews worked around the clock seven days a week to complete the statue. They completed the statue in 1885. They disassembled it into 350 pieces and shipped it to New York. Great fanfare met the Statue when it arrived in New York Harbor on June 17, 1885. Unfortunately, the pedestal was not ready until 1886. 

On a wet and foggy October 28, 1886, one million New Yorkers turned out to cheer the official unveiling of the statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World.” 

There are many more fascinating details about the construction of the Statue of Liberty. You can read a more complete history of the construction on the National Park Service website. Also, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation site has a list of Statue Facts you might enjoy.

A Symbol of Freedom and Democracy

Miss Liberty has been a symbol of freedom and democracy to many. A welcoming beacon. A promise of freedom for all. Are those of us who see her that way naïve? No, but perhaps we didn’t understand that other people saw a more narrow symbol, a more limited welcome.

What’s your symbol of freedom and democracy? Who do you include? We’ll explore those thoughts and more in this ongoing series. 

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