Still, the statue points forward

August 17, 2017

The Statue of Liberty is an exceptional work of art, in scale, setting, and design. Her symbols of liberty celebrate our nation’s past achievements, yet this is not a monument to the past. Instead, the statue focuses our sights on the present and on the future. Toward progress.

The people of France who supported the idea of a statue as a gift to the people of the United States were proud of their close association with our country. They admired the integrity and statesmanlike character of the founding fathers as well as the selfless determination of Abraham Lincoln. They were relieved by the conclusion of the American Civil War and the end of slavery. They shared our ideals and aspirations, and they were glad to honor the United States.

The Statue of Liberty came to embody the moral authority that the United States acquired over the course of its first two hundred years. Indeed, the statue’s symbols of liberty and her depiction of forward movement are meaningful precisely because the United States proved itself a principled leader, leading by example, not merely words. This understanding gives the statue a radiance that transcends her physical design.

There have been threats to America’s world standing throughout her history. But when I wrote my book about the statue, Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty, I believed that, for the most part, people around the world respected the United States. I did not imagine that our political system might be incapacitated in partisan quagmire or that the divisions in our country would flare up into violent confrontations and give rise to expressions of hatred.

And yet the statue, I believe, continues to point forward. She shoulders the burden of our grievances by reminding us of the principles that guided our nation’s growth and enlightenment for over two centuries. Whether we will be re-inspired by them is up to us.

 

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