On this day in 1886, US President Grover Cleveland presides over ceremonies dedicating the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Proceedings included a large parade attended by nearly one million spectators, as well as a procession of boats, replete with the yacht which ferried Cleveland to Bedloe’s (now Liberty) Island for the dedication and unveiling.
Going deep, the idea for the Statue of Liberty was first proposed by Édouard René de Laboulaye, president of the French Anti-Slavery Society and a prominent and important political thinker of his time. The project is traced to a mid-1865 conversation between de Laboulaye and Frédéric Bartholdi, a sculptor, in after-dinner chat at his home near Versailles; the men wished to make a gift to our fledgling nation on her Centennial.
Bartholdi was eventually able to obtain the services of innovative designer and builder Gustave Eiffel (him again) for the work in progress. As a reminder to francophobes, France and her armies and navies essentially won our American Revolution and our freedom for us at Yorktown, and so there’s that.
At the base of the statue, President Cleveland stated the statue’s “stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world.” For their part, suffragists, restricted from the island itself, chartered a boat and came close by, as the group’s leaders made speeches applauding the embodiment of Liberty as a woman and advocating women’s right to vote. And the Cleveland Gazette, an African American newspaper, suggested that the statue’s torch not be lit until the United States became a free nation in reality: “‘Liberty enlightening the world,’ indeed! The expression makes us sick. This government is a howling farce. It can not or rather does not protect its citizens within its own borders.”
For her part, author and activist Emma Lazarus composed a sonnet for fundraising and placement at the statue’s base, which reads in full as follows:
“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!”’