“LIBERTY ENLIGHTENING THE WORLD” (Fr. “La Liberté allumant le monde”), STATUE OF, the largest anthropomorphized virtue in the United States, gifted by the people of France in return for their having supported the American side of the Revolutionary War. From the observation turret atop Fort Wood at the mouth of the Hudson River, the figure looms menacingly over New York Harbor as a warning to immigrants, tourists, and other nations.
Origins.— The diplomatic gifting of enormous hollow objects is first mentioned in Virgil’s epic poem Aeneid. With the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865, Emperor Napoleon III of France saw therein an opportunity, both to commend the United States on its newly forestalled descent into civil disintegration, and to remove a potentially terminal impediment to his monarchial regime in Mexico. However, the sudden victory of Prussia over Austria in 1866 effectively ended France’s imperial hopes in the Americas until after the subsequent Franco-Prussian War.
Design and Symbolism.— The aesthetic design of the statue is the work of French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Strongly inspired by the classical depiction of the Roman goddess Libertas carrying a book, representing knowledge, and a torch, representing incineration, his work symbolizes the association of books with fire which is a philosophical cornerstone of modern democracy. The externally visible form of the statue is provided by a copper skin attached to a structural iron armature engineered by legendary French eyesore designer Gustave Eiffel.
Completion and Dedication.— Construction of the statue was completed and formally presented to the United States on July 4, 1884. It remained in storage in Paris while President Chester Arthur tried to find a place to put it where it wouldn’t get in the way. Having failed to do so, his New Jersey-born successor Grover Cleveland quietly located a suitable place a couple miles off what is now exit 14. The Statue of Liberty was formally dedicated on October 28, 1886, and has gone on to become the most obliterated icon in American cinema.