“A Sound Base-ist”

May 2, 1885

Charles G. Bush

“A Sound Base-ist”

Charity, Fundraising; New York City, Statue of Liberty;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

New York City;

"Kin I git yer to do a leetle suthin' for the Pedestul fun', sir?"

"Oh, get out; you're off your base."

"Right yer air, cap'n; but it's meself that takes the liberty of axin' yer fur a few pennies ter set me on it agin."

In this scene, the cartoonist intends for the beggar seeking change from an indignant and wealthy passerby to parallel the campaign to raise funds for construction of the Statue of Liberty's pedestal.

In late 1865, Eduoard-Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, a leader of the Liberal faction in Imperial France, held a private dinner for a group of like-minded friends.  During the evening, the host reflected on the alliance between France and the United States during the American Revolution, his satisfaction that the American republic had survived the Civil War, and his hope for the establishment of a similar democracy in France.  Calling the countries "two sisters," he raised the idea of France presenting the United States with a gift that symbolized liberty (and that would draw attention to the cause in France).  One of the guests, a young sculptor named Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, was particularly inspired.

After the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), Bartholdi traveled to the United States at the suggestion of Laboulaye to promote the idea of a statue symbolizing liberty and to enhance the efforts of those trying to establish what would become the Third French Republic (1875).  Bartholdi replied, "I will try to glorify the Republic and Liberty over there, in the hope that someday I will find it again here."  He spotted the ideal location for a monument to liberty as he sailed into New York Harbor on June 8, 1871.  The artist presented his plan to President Ulysses S. Grant, editor Horace Greeley, and other influential Americans.  As he traveled across the land, he became impressed by the size of the country:  "Everything in America is big ... Here, even the peas are big."

Bartholdi returned to France with no commitment.  He and Laboulaye realized that the cost would be prohibitive unless shared by both countries, France paying for the statue and the United States for the pedestal.  In 1874, they established a fund-raising committee, the Franco-American Union, with members in both countries.  The goal was to unveil the statue of "Liberty Enlightening the World" at the centennial celebration of the United States on July 4, 1876.  Although not enough money was collected to finish the project on time, the 30-foot raised arm and torch was constructed hurriedly and arrived in August at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Since raising the necessary funds for the project continued to be a problem, the French committee sold a limited series of specially commissioned clay models of the statue and lottery tickets for prizes (silver plate, jewelry, and art work). They collected nearly 250,000 francs by the end of 1879.  In June 1884, the completed statue was officially dedicated by Prime Minister Jules Ferry of France and Levi Morton, the U.S. minister to France (Laboulaye had died the previous December).

On the other side of the Atlantic, however, fundraising for the pedestal was stalled.  Although the Centennial Exhibition had spawned some interest, Americans were not opening their pocketbooks for what some considered a New York affair.  The press carped at its cost, and Congress refused to pass the $100,000 appropriation.  The New York legislature approved $50,000 for construction, but Governor Grover Cleveland vetoed it.

At that point, Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, decided to generate publicity for the pedestal and his newspaper by leading the charge to raise $100,000.  He insisted that the statue would represent the entire nation, shamed the wealthy for their stinginess, and added public pressure by publishing a list of all those who donated.  The theme of the poor asking the rich for a few pennies is aptly emphasized in this cartoon.  Pulitzer's campaign of the people's paper for the people's statue worked:  the $100,000 goal was reached on August 11, 1885, and the World's circulation had risen by 50,000.

In December 1881, the American committee had chosen Richard Morris Hunt, a distinguished architect, to build the pedestal, and in 1884 agreed on one of the designs he offered.  Charles P. Stone was the chief engineer for both the pedestal's construction and the reassembly of the statue (which arrived in June 1885).  Gustave Eiffel (later, designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris) built the interior iron and steel frame.  It took four months to secure the statue on its base.  At the time, the 305-foot Statue of Liberty was the tallest structure in New York City.

On October 28, 1886, the formal dedication of the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe's Island (renamed Liberty Island in 1956) was attended by Bartholdi and his wife, President Grover Cleveland and his cabinet, the French ambassador, Joseph Pulitzer, and other dignitaries.  Most businesses in New York City closed to watch the parade and festivities, except in the financial district.  When the procession marched down Wall Street, the office boys inaugurated a New York tradition by gleefully throwing unfurled ticker tapes out the windows.

In 1903, Emma Lazarus's poem, "The New Colossus" (1883), welcoming "the tired and huddled masses [of immigrants] yearning to breathe free," was etched on a bronze tablet and affixed to an interior wall of the statue's base.  The poem's identification of the statue as "the mother of exiles" helped alter the emphasis of its symbolism of the United States from a beacon enlightening the world to a haven for those seeking liberty.  

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge designated the Statue of Liberty as a national monument, and in 1933 the National Park Service assumed its administration.  In the early 1980s funds were collected for the restoration of the statue and Ellis Island.  On July 4, 1986, 1.5 billion people worldwide watched on television as the Statue of Liberty was rededicated by President Ronald Reagan and celebrated with an elaborate laser and fireworks show.

Robert C. Kennedy

“A Sound Base-ist”
June 17, 2024

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