Enlightening the World

Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty

Yasmin Sabina Khan
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Enlightening the World
    Book Description:

    Conceived in the aftermath of the American Civil War and the grief that swept France over the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Statue of Liberty has been a potent symbol of the nation's highest ideals since it was unveiled in 1886. Dramatically situated on Bedloe's Island (now Liberty Island) in the harbor of New York City, the statue has served as a reminder for generations of immigrants of America's long tradition as an asylum for the poor and the persecuted. Although it is among the most famous sculptures in the world, the story of its creation is little known.

    In Enlightening the World, Yasmin Sabina Khan provides a fascinating new account of the design of the statue and the lives of the people who created it, along with the tumultuous events in France and the United States that influenced them. Khan's narrative begins on the battlefields of Gettysburg, where Lincoln framed the Civil War as a conflict testing whether a nation "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . . can long endure." People around the world agreed with Lincoln that this question-and the fate of the Union itself-affected the "whole family of man."

    Inspired by the Union's victory and stunned by Lincoln's death, Édouard-René Lefebvre de Laboulaye, a legal scholar and noted proponent of friendship between his native France and the United States, conceived of a monument to liberty and the exemplary form of government established by the young nation. For Laboulaye and all of France, the statue would be called La Liberté Éclairant le Monde-Liberty Enlightening the World.

    Following the statue's twenty-year journey from concept to construction, Khan reveals in brilliant detail the intersecting lives that led to the realization of Laboulaye's dream: the Marquis de Lafayette; Alexis de Tocqueville; the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, whose commitment to liberty and self-government was heightened by his experience of the Franco-Prussian War; the architect Richard Morris Hunt, the first American to study architecture at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris; and the engineer Gustave Eiffel, who pushed the limits for large-scale metal construction. Also here are the contributions of such figures as Senators Charles Sumner and Carl Schurz, the artist John La Farge, the poet Emma Lazarus, and the publisher Joseph Pulitzer.

    While exploring the creation of the statue, Khan points to possible sources-several previously unexamined-for the design. She links the statue's crown of rays with Benjamin Franklin's image of the rising sun and makes a clear connection between the broken chain under Lady Liberty's foot and the abolition of slavery. Through the rich story of this remarkable national monument, Enlightening the World celebrates both a work of human accomplishment and the vitality of liberty.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6021-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-7)

    Five days before the official unveiling of the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1886, workmen riveted the last sculpted sheet of thin copper into position. With the placement of this copper sheet at the heel of the statue, a twenty-one-year journey from conception to completion came to a close. Standing high on her pedestal, the statue rose 305 feet 11 inches (94 m) above mean low water level, higher than the piers of the Brooklyn Bridge and the office towers of New York. The entire copper skin and iron support frame had arrived from France in pieces the previous...

  5. 1 THE IDEA
    (pp. 8-16)

    When President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, he defined the Civil War for Americans and the world. In a powerful address that lasted a mere three minutes, he confirmed the moral issue that underlay the division between North and South, assumed for his cause the authority of America’s founders, and asserted the global significance of the outcome of the war. By focusing on the abstract ideal of equality rather than the political implications of secession by the Confederate states, Lincoln began the process of transforming the conflict. Imbued with moral weight, the threatened ...

    (pp. 17-32)

    In the early 1860s Édouard Laboulaye was consumed with frustration over the political situation in France. Born in 1811, when the country was still roiling from the effects of the French Revolution, he knew both the anticipation and disappointment long felt by the French people. Since 1789 France had experienced brief moments of free political expression between long periods of authoritarian rule. When Parisians marched on the Bastille on July 14, 1789, attacking and destroying the fortress and its keepers, they offered a glimpse of the upheaval France would endure in the years ahead. During the early days of the...

    (pp. 33-46)

    The one aspect of the American republic that Laboulaye could not explain was its justification of the institution of slavery. The framers of the Constitution had left unresolved the contradiction between the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and endowed with unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and the oppression of close to one-fifth of the population. In a concession made by the states with few or no slaves to those states dependent on slavery, the Constitution protected the institution for the country’s first twenty years. It obligated states to...

    (pp. 47-60)

    When Édouard Laboulaye first proposed a monument to liberty and the independence of the United States during a dinner party at his home in 1865, the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi was among the evening’s guests. Bartholdi was by this time already gaining a reputation as a sculptor with “a goodly array of excellent works.” As a youth he had received his training from highly respected artists in Paris. As a recognized sculptor, he mingled with other artists in the capital and was regularly invited to the salon of Émilien de Nieuwerkerke, the superintendent of fine arts at the Louvre. Bartholdi’s work,...

    (pp. 61-81)

    Only nine days after his return to Paris at the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Bartholdi boarded a steamship in Brest for a twelveday voyage across the Atlantic. Although Laboulaye and his colleagues had not offered him a firm commission for an American liberty monument, Bartholdi felt certain of Laboulaye’s personal commitment to the project. Through Laboulaye’s connections Bartholdi was also assured access to numerous people of influence. Laboulaye had formed many friendships in America. He was a dedicated correspondent and a gracious host; those who wrote to him received a response, and those who visited France were won over...

    (pp. 82-98)

    Many reasons explained the conflicting responses Bartholdi received to his proposal for a liberty statue. Although gift exchange was part of the friendship between the people of France and the United States, demonstrating and strengthening the ties between the sister republics, the suggestion of building a large monument in collaboration with the French made some people uncomfortable. Would this create an obligation on the part of the United States, and would it be costly to erect and maintain? The country was still recovering from the Civil War and the government already had ample obligations. During his visits to Washington, D.C.,...

    (pp. 99-116)

    “Everyone,” Philo of Byzantium avowed as early as the third century B.C., “has heard of each of the Seven Wonders of the World.” Over the following centuries the list of Seven Wonders occasionally varied (some lists included the Capitol in Rome, among other variations) but during the Renaissance the canon of seven was definitively established.

    The oldest of the wonders is the Great Pyramid at Giza. Built around 2560 B.C. to a height of 481 feet (146.6 m), it claimed the title of world’s tallest structure for over four thousand years. Egypt was also home to the Pharos at Alexandria,...

    (pp. 117-132)

    By early 1872 Bartholdi was close to completing his design for the statue. It would not be until September 1875, however, that Édouard Laboulaye was ready to launch the project with a public announcement of their plans. The primary reason for this threeyear delay was political. Although a republic had been proclaimed at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, in practice the governance of France did not follow this abrupt shift. Certain steps were taken to move in this direction. Elections were held again in 1871 and, for the first time, Laboulaye was seated in the National...

    (pp. 133-146)

    The arm and torch at the Centennial Exhibition confirmed that the idea for a statue was already taking form in France. During his second visit to the United States, in the summer and fall of 1876, Bartholdi looked for other opportunities to publicize the statue. One such occasion was the unveiling of a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette, also designed by Bartholdi. The French government had commissioned the Lafayette statue as an expression of gratitude for the aid raised in New York during the Franco-Prussian War. Scheduled to coincide with Lafayette’s birthday celebration on September 6, the festive ceremony...

    (pp. 147-158)

    The placement of the first rivet in the statue in Paris prompted the American Committee, whose activity had subsided in the late 1870s, to begin making plans for construction on Bedloe’s Island. The committee solicited proposals from architects and, based on a preliminary scheme submitted for its review, commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design the pedestal for the statue.

    By the time of his selection in late 1881, Hunt had become one of the most highly esteemed architects in America. His work included the Studio Building, where he had his office and atelier. This was the first building in New...

    (pp. 159-175)

    In the summer of 1884, the liberty monument was nearing completion. Construction of the foundation and pedestal base were complete. A design for the pedestal had been selected, and its construction would soon begin. The details of the sculptural copper form and the inner support structure had been worked out as the statue was built in Paris. To a casual observer, it appeared that “the moment” after the acceptance of the statue by Levi P. Morton on behalf of the United States, “the workmen will begin to take it to pieces for transport to America.” There, continued an article in...

    (pp. 176-186)

    The inauguration of a public monument was often a grand occasion. The Yorktown Monument, for instance, drew representatives from France and from each of the original thirteen states. The ceremony planned for the Statue of Liberty, therefore, reached for grandeur to acknowledge the work’s unique significance. A parade through the streets of New York, a naval procession in the harbor, and speeches at Bedloe’s Island all served to mark the nation’s acceptance of the gift from France and to commemorate the ideals and proud birth of the nation that the statue honors. A cold drizzle the day of the festivities...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 187-212)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-224)
  19. Index
    (pp. 225-232)