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Today in history: The Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty
Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Because of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, July 4th is often celebrated as the birthday of the United States. But other events holding great symbolic significance happened on this day in history. In 1884, France unveiled a gift to the United States — one that remains an icon of freedom to this day.

Origins of the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was the brain-child of Edouard de Laboulaye. As the co-founder and president of the French Anti-Slavery Society, Laboulaye was thrilled with the outcome of the American Civil War and wanted to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Laboulaye commissioned French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi as the artist responsible for crafting the 150-foot statue. The proposed completion date was supposed to mark the centennial of the founding of the United States, but problems in financing delayed construction on both the statue in France and its pedestal in America. By July 4, 1876, only the right arm and torch were completed.

With Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel as the architect for the internal structure, the French moved on with construction while Americans were still raising money for the pedestal. The copper behemoth was completed and revealed to US Ambassador Levi P. Morton in Paris on July 4, 1884. However, it wasn't until 1886 that the pedestal was built and ready for Lady Liberty to take her place atop it.

How Lady Liberty became an American icon

The Statue of Liberty has been cast in both positive and negative lights. The influx of immigrants funneled through New York during the late 19th and early 20th centuries made the statue a the light of the new world. After countless days of travel, millions of foreign-born people flooded in through Ellis Island in hopes of making better lives for themselves.

However, Nativists were not keen on the surge of immigrants. They drew political cartoons of Lady Liberty, making jabs at the “huddled masses.” Still a hot-button issue today, some native-born Americans raised concerns about the effect immigrants would have on the economy and U.S. society.

Despite the negativity, America came to be seen as the land of opportunity — and Liberty Enlightening the World became the beacon of hope.

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