On The Enduring Power Of The Statue Of Liberty

On this Fourth of July, I am thinking of the enduring power of the Statue of Liberty and its special place in the American imagination.  How many Americans have a photograph, or (in our case) metal miniature, or some other representation of the Statue of Liberty in their homes?

The symbolism of this colossal statue is intensely powerful, both inspirational and aspirational, plucking at the chords of the American psyche — and the back story of the statue is a large contributor to that symbolic power.

The story begins in 1865 as the idea of a Frenchman, Edouard de Laboulaye, who wanted to recognize the survival of democracy and demise of slavery in the United States in the aftermath of the Civil War — and who also wanted to encourage democracy in France itself.  The Statue of Liberty thus became a gift from the people of France, to commemorate the distinctive achievement of American democracy and to celebrate the friendship of the two nations.  Americans should forever be grateful to the people of France for their generosity.

Artist Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi was hired to create the statue.  In a visit to the United States in 1874, he selected Bedloe’s Island (since renamed Liberty Island) as the location for the statue.  He decided to build the statue of copper, using a technique in which the copper was hammered to extraordinary thinness — only 3/32 of an inch thick — and then built over a metal skeleton.  French engineer Gustave Eiffel, later to grace Paris with the famous landmark that bears his name, designed a massive pylon and metal skeleton that allows the statue to stand upright and also move in response to the winds in New York harbor.

It was decided that while the French would be responsible for the cost of statue, Americans would pay for the pedestal.  When fundraising for the pedestal dragged, Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of The World and later the father of the Pulitzer Prizes, decided to campaign for the completion of fundraising, writing a series of blistering editorials that excoriated the wealthy and the middle class for their miserly failure to support the fundraising effort.

The statute was completed in France in 1884, disassembled, and shipped to America to be reassembled atop the towering pedestal.  The Statue of Liberty was completed and officially dedicated on October 28, 1886 — just in time for Lady Liberty’s awesome visage to welcome the millions of hopeful immigrants who were streaming to nearby Ellis Island to begin their lives in America.

The statue itself is called Statue Of Liberty Enlightening The World, with stolid Lady Liberty standing amid broken and cast-off shackles.  She carries a tablet inscribed with the July 4, 1776 date of the Declaration of Independence and strides forward, holding aloft a torch of freedom.  Her crown has seven rays, one of each of the continents.  The New Colossus, a famous sonnet by Emma Lazarus that celebrates the goal of liberty and freedom for the world’s oppressed, is engraved on a tablet within the pedestal.

There is a reason why, when the original Planet of the Apes sought to shock audiences with the disclosure that the planet was really a future Earth, it did so by having Charlton Heston come upon a partially buried Statue of Liberty.  The buried remains of the statue packed an emotional punch because it was a tangible sign that the American experiment had failed.  The Statue of Liberty is inexorably bound up with the hopes and dreams of the world’s enslaved and oppressed peoples, and serves as a constant reminder of the obligation of all current Americans, having inherited this great land of freedom, to continue its legacy of liberty,  democracy, and opportunity.

Happy Fourth of July to all!

Funny Money

Today I had to park in a parking garage, and when I paid the parking fee I got two dollar coins for change.  When I looked at the coins, I did a double-take and wondered if I had been scammed, because these dollar coins did not look like bona fide American currency.

Seriously, has anybody else seen these?  My coin featured a perplexed-looking Andrew Johnson — arguably the worst President in American history — on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other.  It is a garish copper color, it feels like it is made of reclaimed metal, and the art on the coin is pretty cheesy.  Is this real American currency?  It looks like one of those cheap metal tokens you’d get if you got change for a dollar at a video arcade.

I’m assuming it is an actual American coin, in which case I fear for the future of the Republic.  Shouldn’t our currency be a bit more carefully considered and aspirational?   Why in the world would we put one of our worst Presidents on any form of legal tender?  For that matter, why do we have to put Presidents on everything?  Can’t we get back to the point where our coins are more symbolic, like the classic walking Liberty half dollar, or more focused on American history and culture, like the Buffalo nickel?  And if we can’t manage that, can’t we at least create a coin that looks like it is worth its face value?

Thoughts On Immigration In The Wake Of The New Arizona Law

The recent enactment (and even more recent amendment) of a state law in Arizona that criminalizes illegal immigrant status has brought the issue of immigration to the forefront of national attention.  For the news reports I have heard, it seems to be one of those issues where people quickly choose up sides, adopt hard-line positions, and then are unwilling to try to understand the views and motivations of the other side. Massive marches to protest the Arizona law are planned for today.

Yesterday four of us from the office — JV, The Unkempt Guy, the Domer, and me — had an animated but respectful, and I think helpful, discussion about the immigration issue.  Although we approached the issue from different perspectives, our discussion indicated that there are some clear points of agreement.

First, we all recognized (obviously) that racial profiling is unacceptable and destructive of our free and pluralistic society.  The biggest challenge for the Arizona statute, if it ever takes effect, will be to develop some method for determining “reasonable suspicion” that is not, in reality, focused exclusively or primarily on skin color and language capabilities.  Perhaps everyone who is stopped by police should be treated equally and asked to provide the same evidence of citizenship or legal immigrant status, as a routine matter.

Second, we all agreed that maintaining secure borders is a fundamental requirement of nationhood and the job of the federal government.  If you cannot prevent marauding bands of armed men from crossing the border at will, can you even call yourself a country?  It may be easy for people in Ohio or other northern states to criticize the citizens of Arizona or downplay their concerns, but I’ve heard some harrowing reports about Americans who live near the border who have been hurt, killed, or terrorized by the armed groups of drug runners or human traffickers who have crossed the border  and roamed the desert with impunity.  Who would want to be awakened at night by the sounds of unknown groups of men crossing their property?

Third, we all agreed that legal immigration has been a wonderful thing for our country and should be encouraged.  This should not be a surprise — all of us have ancestors who came to this land, though Ellis Island and other ports of entry, from various parts of Europe and the British Isles, eager to start a new life in a New World of freedom and opportunity.

What do these three points of agreement mean?  For me, this means that the federal government has failed in one of its primary responsibilities.  I think the answer is to create whatever structures or patrolling approaches are necessary to keep illegal aliens from crossing the border into this country — period.  In an age of terrorism and weaponry that can easily cause mass casualties, we simply cannot accept a porous southern border.  In addition, we should liberalize our immigration laws to allow for significantly more legal immigration.  I think immigration is an easy way for America to continue to grow and prosper, because legal immigrants traditionally are energetic risk-takers who are willing to sacrifice their old lives and old ways for the hope of a new and better life.  Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who came to America were hard-working, thrifty, patriotic, and dedicated to their children’s success and their family’s betterment.  Those immigrants made this country an immeasurably better place to live, and we should welcome such people with open arms — just as the Statute of Liberty says:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”