The Statue of Liberty Laboulaye brought to New York.
Almost every child in the United States learns about the Statue of Liberty. It’s one of the most famous symbols of the nation, and a colossal engineering feat, too. Most of us know that the statue is a gift from France, but the story behind the gift rarely gets explained. Why did France decide to give us a giant statue? And who was behind it? The answer is the elaborately named Eduard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, a French man who dedicated much of his life to studying and promoting the United States. This is the story of the Statue of Liberty Laboulaye brought to New York.
France’s path to democracy and republicanism was not nearly as straightforward as it was in the United States. The French Revolution, which occurred just after the United States’ own revolution, ended in a reign of terror and the rise of Napoleon’s emperorship. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the monarchy returned briefly before being replaced by another republic in 1848. But this republic failed in 1852 when Napoleon’s nephew seized power and declared himself Emperor. Needless to say, the 19th century was a time of upheaval in France. But through it all, Laboulaye remained a tireless advocate of freedom and democracy, two principles he saw manifested in the emergence of the United States.
Laboulaye was a scholar of American history and government at a time when the study of such a new country wasn’t considered very scholarly. Still, through his lectures on French assistance in the American Revolution and on the American government’s commitment to democracy, he helped portray the United States as a model for a democratic France. He saw one major flaw in the United States’ government, though: slavery. For him, people in chains contradicted America’s professed value of freedom. So, Laboulaye became an ardent supporter of President Lincoln and the Northern cause; he knew that the survival of the American republic would bolster the case for a republican government in France.
Despite the oppression of Napoleon III’s regime, Laboulaye’s ideas spread and resonated with the French people, and so when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, France grieved, too. Around that time, Laboulaye hosted a dinner at his home that included friend and sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. Laboulaye proposed the idea of a statue representing the shared history, values, and friendship of the two nations. By suggesting a statue of liberty Laboulaye conceived an idea that would embody the ideals he hoped to see flourish in France.
But the time wasn’t right yet. France was still a repressed nation. Even Laboulaye’s classes and lectures on American government had been shut down. But, quietly, Laboulaye and Bartholdi began working. Bartholdi sailed for a tour of America in 1871 to learn about the country and find a perfect location for the statue of liberty Laboulaye had envisioned. After touring the United States for three months, he decided that the ideal place for the statue would be the very first place he saw: New York harbor.
The rule of Napoleon III ended in 1870 with the Franco-Prussian War and a stronger, lasting republic took its place, much to the delight of Laboulaye. The restrictions on speech and press were eased and the political climate changed. By 1875, when the United States was preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday, Laboulaye and Bartholdi began raising money so they could publicly unveil their idea. It would take more than ten years of work and countless trials and tribulations, but the statue of liberty Laboulaye had worked so hard to achieve was finally revealed on October 28, 1886. Today she stands as a monument to the ideals of the United States, of the unceasing friendship between France and the USA, and of the dedication and admiration of one fearless French citizen. Merci Monsieur Laboulaye!