Among other French volunteers, a young general, the Marquis de Lafayette, had helped the struggling American colonists win their independence. That victory greatly encouraged the French in their own fight for independence. Later, in gratitude and as a gesture of friendship, France built the Statue of Liberty—its formal name is Liberty Enlightening the World—and gave it to the United States. It was erected on Bedloe’s Island (later renamed Liberty Island), where it was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland on October 28, 1886.
The statue is the figure of a noble woman holding a torch in her right hand in a symbolic gesture of lighting the way to freedom. Cradled in her left arm is a tablet inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence. A broken shackle lies at her feet, symbolizing the overthrow of oppression and tyranny.
For many years there was essentially limitless immigration to the United States; all peoples were welcome. Emma Lazarus, who worked to help persecuted Jews immigrate to the United States from Russia, was inspired to write a sonnet about the statue, a stirring reminder to such immigrants that they had at last and indeed achieved their freedom. Printed here in full, the sonnet was inscribed on a tablet in the pedestal of the statue in 1903.
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-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”