Nothing says “America” like the Statue of Liberty. There she is, standing guard, holding her light to the world.  It was the first thing the multitude of immigrants saw when they made the voyage across the ocean in pursuit of “the American Dream.”  Lady Liberty was there to guide them in and welcome them to their new country.  It is appropriate the National Park includes both the torch bearing lady and the long closed Ellis Island Immigration Station.  Yet, the original concept of the statue is not about the American Dream, but rather friendship between nations.

Statue of Liberty; Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia Commons

The British Colonize the Eastern Coast of America

The history of the iconic statue starts a hundred years before the thing was even an idea.  It really started when a group called the Pilgrims sailed from England and beached themselves on Plymouth Rock.  The Pilgrims set up camp and began to colonize the New World, much to the chagrin of the Native Americans. Each of the thirteen colonies developed their own system of self-government; however, they were still part of British rule.  The thirteen colonies were comprised of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, North & South Carolina and Providence Plantations.  Originally, the thirteen colonies were simply part of the numerous colonies of British America.

Though Benjamin Franklin tried to join the colonies as one union of colonies, he was unsuccessful. Trouble began brewing when the British Empire instituted the Stamp Act of 1765 which was a direct tax imposed on the colonies.[7]  The Act required the colonies to print materials on paper products produced in London that carried an embossed revenue stamp.  This applies to such printed materials as legal documents, newspapers and magazines.[7]

British Parliament determined the Seven Year War with France (fought from 1756-1763 and known as the French and Indian War in America) had been quite expensive for Britain, almost doubling their national debt.[7]  In addition, Britain decided to maintain ten thousand soldiers in the American colonies.  Part of their reasoning was keeping 1,500 well-connected to Parliament officers working; and also reasoning it was politically advantageous to keep a large peacetime garrison and since the locals were adverse to maintaining the army at home, the troops needed to be deployed out of country.[7]  Because the soldiers were stationed in America, Parliament reasoned the colonies were in part responsible for maintaining their care and expense.  The taxes collected were to offset the expense of the soldiers.

The colonists did not have a representative in Parliament and therefore believed this taxation was against their rights as Englishmen.  In essence, it was “taxation without representation” and the colonists protested vigorously.  Protests and demonstrations sometimes turned violent.  Exporters to the colonies didn’t agree with the Act either, as the economics of the colonies directly impacted theirs.  It didn’t take long for the intimidated stamp tax distributors to resign their commissions, thus the tax was never really collected with any kind of efficiency.

With pressure from the British exporters, Parliament repelled the Stamp Act in 1766.  However, they decided to pass the Declaratory Act to assert their power over the colonies.  This act stated Parliament had the same authority in America as it did in Britain and any laws they passed were binding on the American colonies.  Subsequently they passed numerous new taxes and regulations which of course were opposed by the colonists.  The colonists were already paying taxes to Britain through their own elected governments. As far as they were concerned, this was double taxation.

Colonists Declare Independence from British Rule

As the colonists continued to protest the new taxes imposed, Parliament continued to press forward in attempts to control what they considered out of control colonists.  The tipping point came when colonists protested the tea tax and boycotted tea imports.  The infamous Boston Tea Party (1793) was in response to the boycott over the tea tax; Parliament responded with new laws in 1774 curtailing the authority of Massachusetts to self-govern. Once Massachusetts was stripped of its historic rights and rights to self-govern; the thirteen colonies went ballistic. The colonists called these new laws “The Intolerable Act.”[8]  While Parliament had hoped by punishing Massachusetts, the other colonies would step in line; it only created a more hostile attitude towards British rule and the colonists were on course to declare independence.

 In response to the Intolerable Act, the colonists formed what is known as the Provincial Congresses which were bodies of elected representatives.  Later in the year, all of the colonies except Georgia sent representatives to Philadelphia to the First Continental Congress.[8]  Georgia added their representatives for the Second Continental Congress.  In spring of 1775 all of the royal officials from Britain had been expelled from the thirteen colonies.  The Continental Congress became the de facto national government of the colonies and it created an army to fight the British and named George Washington as its commander.  The Continental Congress made treaties, declared independence and recommended the colonies write constitutions to become states.[8]

Supporters of the Thirteen Colonies

At the time of the Revolutionary War, Britain had seven other colonies on North America’s Atlantic coast: Newfoundland, Rupert’s Land, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, the Province of Quebec and East and West Florida.  None of these colonies were supportive of the thirteen colonies' stance for various reasons.  In the British West Indies it was a different story.  The elected assemblies of Barbados, Jamaica and Grenada formally declared they support the American colonies.[8] Other colonies of the West Indies remained loyal to Britain.

Bermuda and the Bahamas were increasingly supportive of the Americans because of the food shortages there caused by the British blockades of American ports.  Throughout the war, the two colonies were considered “passive allies.”  Although not directly engaging in the war or directly supporting the colonists, they offered no resistance when the American Navy seized gunpowder in the Bahamas.[8]

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French Support of the Revolutionary War

By now you may be wondering what this had to do with the Statue of Liberty.  Here is where it gets interesting.  The French were by far the most supportive of the American cause.  They had lost their part of Canada to the British during the Seven Year War and were still stinging from the defeat.  When the American colonies declared their independence, France saw this as an opportunity to reduce the British Empire; so they were supportive of the colonies from the “get-go.” 

Having little resources of their own, the colonists turned to France.  Benjamin Franklin was sent to France to rally support and he was met with great enthusiasm from the aristocracy down to the lowest of the general population.  Initially, the aid France supplied was covert; French agents sent military aid such as gunpowder shipped through legitimate companies.  In less than a year, the rebels had been given over five million livres worth of supplies by the French.[6]

Marquis de Lafayette; Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia CommonsFrench volunteers entered the war; the most famous, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (known simply as Lafayette), became Washington’s aid and a combat general.  French ports accommodated American ships and France continued to support the Rebel cause with economic aid, technical assistance and even granting some of their military strategists “vacations” to give them time to assist the Americans. [6]

The American Rebels wanted France to engage fully in the war and even attempted to gain the support of Spain as well.  Spain could see no benefit in supporting the rebels and worried the rebellion would influence the colonists in Spanish control.   They didn’t enter the war until 1779. Though the public opinion in France was open war, King Louis and his advisors were reluctant.   Even though the Americans made the argument an alliance between America, Spain and France would crush the British, Spain declined and France’s foreign minister, Charles Gravier, the Count de Vergennes, was worried the French Navy was not yet ready.  On July 23, 1777. The Count decided it was time to either throw full support to the Rebels or abandon them altogether.  Luckily for the Americans, he chose the former and it was ratified by the King.

On February 6, 1778 France formally recognized The United States and signed the Treaty of Alliance (defensive alliance between France and the U.S which promised military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future).  Britain responded by declaring war on France on March 17, 1778.  France and Britain immediately confronted each other with their naval forces.[6]

Battle of Chesapeake; Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy, Source: Wikimedia Commons

The French assistance in the war was predominately naval.  With the help of their fleet, major battles were won in New York and Virginia, subsequently ending the war. Finally, in September 1783, the war formally ended and the Treaty of Paris was signed (Britain signed separate treaties with France, Spain and the Dutch Republic).  France spent 1.3 billion livres to directly support the Americans during the war and additional monies fighting the British off American soil.[6]

Cornwallis Surrenders; Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia Commons


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100 Years Later

About the time the American Civil War was ending, the concept of a statue was proposed by Bartholdi with his Design; Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Source: Wikimedia CommonsFrench historian Edouard de Laboulaye.  His idea was to have France create a statue it would give to the United States as part of the celebration of the nation’s success in attaining independence and forming a working democracy.  Sculptor Fredric Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design the statue in time for the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876.[3] The project was to be a joint effort; the United States would build the pedestal for the statue and France would design and build the statue.  It was to be a symbol of friendship between the two nations.

In both France and the United States the first challenge was to raise funds for the project. France raised the necessary monies through public fees, entertainment venues and a lottery.[2]  While France was already starting their work on the statue, the United States was still raising funds for the pedestal.  Benefits, contests and exhibitions brought in most of the funds for the pedestal with newspaperman, Joseph Pultizer raised the last of the necessary monies through his paper, the World.[3]


Statue of Liberty Deconstructed


With the funds finally raInterior of Lady Liberty; Photo by: Daniel Schwen, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Photo by: Daniel Schwen, Source: Wikimedia Commonsised, Bartholdi stared work on the statue started in 1875. He titled the work Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.  The design had a woman holding a torch raised in her right hand and a tablet in her left.  On the tablet was engraved “July 4, 1776,” the date of the Declaration of Independence.  To make the “skin” of the statue, Bartholdi used copper sheets.  For the skeleton of the statue, he asked the designer of the Eiffel Tower, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel for assistance.[3]  Eiffel and Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc built the skeleton with steel and iron pylon which allowed the copper skin to move independently.

Meanwhile, in New York, American architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the pedestal and in 1885 construction started inside the courtyard of Fort Wood.[3] Fort Wood was located on Construction of the Pedestal; Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia CommonsBedloe’s Island in the Upper New York Bay, just off the southern tip of Manhattan.  The pedestal was completed in April, 1886, about nine months after the funds were collected.

Bartholdi and his helpers completed the statue in July 1884 and shipped 350 pieces packed in over 200 crates aboard the French frigate Isere to the United States.  It took four months to reassemble the pieces onto the pedestal.[2]Including the pedestal the structure rose to 305 feet (93 meters).  On October 28, 1886 the Statue of Liberty was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland.  It was ten years later than de Laboulaye proposed date, but the symbolism  was established as he suggested.

Operation of Lady Liberty

Initially the statue was put under the care of the United States Lighthouse Board.  After 1901, operation was moved to the War Department.  On October 15, 1924, Fort Wood was declared a National Monument which included the statue.  In 1933, the National Monument was placed under the care of the National Park Service.[2] In 1937 the Monument was enlarged to include all of Bedloe’s Island and in 1956 the island was changed to Liberty Island.  In 1965, Ellis Island became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.  In 1984, the United Nations designated the statue as a World Heritage Site. [2]

The green hue of the Lady was caused by oxidation of the copper skin due to rain, sun and wind.  She was restored in 1984 and was ready for her centennial celebration in 1986. The park was closed again after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.  Though the island was Torch of Statue of Liberty; Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, Source: Wikimedia Commonsreopened after 100 days, the statue was not opened again until August 2004.[3]  Since July 2009, to gain access to the crown or the top of the pedestal, visitors must make reservations.  In 2012 the park was closed once again due to Hurricane Sandy.  Thought Lady Liberty came through the storm unscathed, the island itself and supporting buildings suffered extensive damage.

Generally the park is open year-round, only closing on Christmas Day.  Peak tourists months are from April through September and holiday weekends.[1]  Wait times for the ferry may be as long as 90 minutes during these months.  Visitors must be prepared for security screening.  Before boarding the ferry, visitors are screened much like at an airport.[1]  Also, before entering the monument visitors are screened for a second time.[1] The only ferry allowed to dock at the island is Statue Cruises.  The Park Service recommends making reservations prior to the day of the visit.

The Statue of Liberty continues to be a popular tourist attraction for New York and the United Sates.  She means so many things to so many people.  A light to the world and a symbol of friendship, she has endured all the force of nature has thrown her way.


The copyright of the article The Statue of Liberty in New York is Symbol of Friendship is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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