A New Colossus
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people honoring the alliance between France and the United States during the American Revolution.
Since 1875, Lady Liberty has welcomed scores of settlers into a nation that has known greater success and prosperity than any other in the history of mankind. Liberty was a controversial and widely disputed idea in the 19th century, often associated with acts of violence and revolution.
The architects of the project agreed that the monument would be gifted to the United States to symbolize a strong and steadfast people that govern peacefully and lawfully.
Ruins of Storied Pomp
The inspiration for The Statue of Liberty came from the city of Rhodes, in ancient Greece. The Colossus of Rhodes was an enormous statue that stood by the harbor of the city in honor of the sun god, Helios. It is known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and took twelve years to complete.
Rhodes had become an essential economic port in the ancient world and had developed an arrogance and sense of invincibility. As seen in drawings of the statue, the Colossus of Rhodes was believed to have been built in a relaxed stance, mirroring the confidence felt by the leaders and elites of the ancient world. The giant statue held arrows and a bow, symbolizing the dominance of the tyrannical form of governance that was held in place.
The Colossus of Rhodes stood for less than 50 years — though after it crumbled to the ground, it lay in a pile of rubble for over 800 years, as people from across the globe came to see its great fall.
The Broken Chains of Despotism
The Statue of Liberty was conceived to wake Europeans and the rest of the world up and out of their system of liberty that was modeled after the Colossus of Rhodes — a system of tyranny and oppression maneuvered by a handful of elites, not observing and protecting the natural rights of the individual and serving only towards the security and advancement of their despotic position of power. The Statue of Liberty is meant to mock that very system of autocratic governance!
The portion of The New Colossus that reads, “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…”, is commonly taken out of context. Lady Liberty is not calling on Europe to send her their outcasts so that they can be equally miserable in the United States and to help Europe keep their head above water. Instead, she stands beside the shore to say “Look! Even the people that you, the rest of the world, have rejected, they can make it here! They will give all they have to be successful in the United States!”
This was the aim of the French architects. They wished to ignite the French with a sense of liberty — as to say, “look at America. Look at all they can accomplish, because of the value placed on the rights of the individual.”
While the Colossus of Rhodes holds arrows and a bow, The Statue of Liberty holds the tablet of law: the Constitution. If you notice, she stands on the balls of her feet, moving forward, arm and torch outstretched to the world. The law in her hand enables her to move forward. The law enabled her to break free from the chains that the European system had put in place.
This is the origin story of the United States. A group of Colonists came together to break free from the chains of a despotic government.
Is this still our nation’s stance? I would argue that we have lost our way somewhere along the path. Many of our leaders have thrown the Constitution aside. Without it, the chains of despotism will inevitably be forged once again. Will we secure the last great hope on Earth? Or will we take the first step into a thousand years of darkness? As Ronald Reagan said so eloquently, now is “A Time for Choosing”.
Let us reflect on the words of Emma Lazarus, the author of the poem that The Statue of Liberty embodies, and decide who we will choose to be:
“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!”