The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story (Icons of America)

The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story (Icons of America)

Language: English

Pages: 248

ISBN: 0300149506

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A universally recognized icon, the Statue of Liberty is perhaps the most beloved of all American symbols. Yet no one living in 1885, when the crated monument arrived in New York Harbor, could have foreseen the central place the Statue of Liberty would come to occupy in the American imagination. With the particular insights of a cultural historian and scholar of French history, Edward Berenson tells the little-known stories of the statue’s improbable beginnings, transatlantic connections, and the changing meanings it has held for each successive American generation.

Berenson begins with the French intellectuals who decided for their own domestic political reasons to pay monumental tribute to American liberty. Without any official backing, they designed the statue, announced the gift, and determined where it should go. The initial American response, not surprisingly, was less than enthusiastic, and the project had to overcome countless difficulties before the statue was at last unveiled to the public in New York Harbor in 1886. The trials of its inception and construction, however, are only half of the story. Berenson shows that the statue’s symbolically indistinct, neoclassical form has allowed Americans to interpret its meaning in diverse ways: as representing the emancipation of the slaves, Tocqueville's idea of orderly liberty, opportunity for "huddled masses," and, in the years since 9/11, the freedom and resilience of New York City and the United States in the face of terror.

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America in celebrating the old and great friendship that has long united these two peoples.”17 To this wishful thinking Laboulaye, who wrote the text, added that “a French artist had captured the ideas of 1776” so perfectly that everyone in the United States has endorsed his project and “prepared all the means necessary to execute it.” Nothing could be further from the truth, as Laboulaye well knew. Nor was it true, as the circular claimed, that although the French were taking the initiative,

homeland of liberty, DuBois, having experienced his country’s racist realities firsthand, saw the sculptor’s birthplace as the more freedom-loving land. African American champions of civil rights were reluctant for good reason to stage public demonstrations of dissent; they paid little attention to the Statue of Liberty, even on its inauguration day. Meanwhile, advocates of women’s suffrage, mostly white women who hailed from the solid middle class, boldly aimed their own skepticism of the

Leading the People for the unerotic mother figure he ultimately produced. Still, there is nothing weak or demure about his colossal mother of the harbor. Her massive size dwarfed all existing statues of men, and, as constructed, she appears to stride deliberately toward the ships in her path. Her powerful arm holds a heavy torch aloft, and she seems to preside, as if a ruler, over the entrance to a great nation-state. SIX Huddled Masses Many histories of the Statue of Liberty end with its

did so in exchange for permission to affix the centennial’s imprimatur to their products, to call their beverage or car or umbrella (“Every time it rains, you’ll remember her 100th birthday”) the “official” one of Liberty’s centennial. Other companies negotiated arrangements in which every time a consumer used or purchased their product, Iacocca’s foundation received a tiny percentage. The best-known such tie-in was American Express’s agreement to donate one penny to the restoration for each use

The French-American Statue in Art and History, ed. Pierre Provoyeur and June Hargrove (hereafter Provoyeur) (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), 29. 4. Quoted in Pauli and Ashton, I Lift My Lamp, 38. 5. Marvin Trachtenberg, The Statue of Liberty (New York: Penguin, 1986), 28. 6. Pauli and Ashton, I Lift My Lamp, 33 (italics added). 7. Maurice Agulhon, Marianne into Battle (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982). 8. Ibid. 9. Marvin Trachtenberg, The Statue of Liberty (New York: Penguin,

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