This presidential address was delivered at the 132nd annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in Washington, DC, on January 5, 2018.

White Freedom and the Lady of Liberty

According to a persistent rumor among African Americans, the sculpture that rises grandly from Liberty Island in New York Harbor is not the original Statue of Liberty. The true original was modeled after a black woman and had African features. In addition, the point of the statue was not to honor immigrants but rather to commemorate the abolition of slavery in America, in particular the service of black Union soldiers in the Civil War. The statue carried broken chains to symbolize emancipation. Furthermore, the rumor goes, the current white statue was substituted for the original when American politicians objected to the portrayal of Liberty as a black woman. Some have even argued that the original black statue still exists, either in France or hidden somewhere in the catacombs of New York.1

No evidence can be found to verify this legend, but its mere existence underscores the racialized nature of America’s most famous monument. Of all the memorials to freedom throughout the world, none is more important or more widely known than the Statue of Liberty. Towering majestically over the entrance to New York Harbor since 1886, the great statue has become, more than any other physical site, the symbol of both human freedom and American national identity. Originally a gift from France to the United States, it also represents the historical ties between the two great republics and the significance of liberty as a global phenomenon. Endlessly reproduced as a tourist object, a commercial symbol, and a political icon, the Statue of Liberty is one of the great monuments of the modern world.2

Figure 1: The Statue of Liberty in Black and White. At left is Lady Liberty of Freedom Point on the island of St. Martin, a public sculpture by Theodore Bonev that was installed in 2007. Some have mistaken photographs of this sculpture as depicting the “original” Statue of Liberty.

Figure 1: The Statue of Liberty in Black and White. At left is Lady Liberty of Freedom Point on the island of St. Martin, a public sculpture by Theodore Bonev that was installed in 2007. Some have mistaken photographs of this sculpture as depicting the “original” Statue of Liberty.

There is a facet of the statue’s history, however, that has yet to be explored in depth: its role as a symbol of whiteness, and more particularly of the whiteness of freedom. Race and racism are not just central aspects of Western society; they have shaped and permeated the very idea of freedom as we understand it. Moreover, freedom has been closely entangled with ideas of whiteness and white racial identity in modern history, so that to be free has often meant to be white, and vice versa. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes this perfectly: Lady Liberty’s European physical features, most obviously, but also the lack (indeed, as we shall see, the suppression) of any markers identifying the sculpture with rebel or freed slaves, give it a strong sense of racial identity. Moreover, the symbolic role played by the monument in allowing European immigrants to the U.S. to claim white status underscores its racial character, as does its complicated but largely exclusionary or at best irrelevant relationship to African Americans and other peoples of color. The Statue of Liberty embodies both racial difference and an unparalleled representation of human liberation. It is thus the perfect symbol of white freedom.3

Conceived by French scholar and activist Édouard de Laboulaye and wrought by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the Statue of Liberty not only represents the admiration of the people of France for America but equally illustrates the changing nature of liberty, including its racial dimensions, in French history. The idea of France as a land of freedom has been central to modern French identity, summarized by the famous slogan of the French Revolution, “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” in which liberty takes pride of place.4 In particular, the ideal of freedom has taken the political form of republicanism, emphasizing popular sovereignty and the rejection of aristocratic rule. Emerging out of the cauldron of the French Revolution, republicanism espoused a new vision of France, and indeed of all humanity, centered around individual liberty and political democracy. By the beginning of the twentieth century, republican ideology dominated French political culture, and it continues to do so to this day.5 The creation of republican hegemony took decades, however, involving a series of tumultuous political struggles throughout the nineteenth century. The Statue of Liberty was conceived and constructed during this era of republican apprenticeship in France, eventually symbolizing not just freedom in America but also the triumph of the republican ideal in the land of Liberty’s birth.

Republicanism as a political idea goes back to antiquity, notably the Roman Republic, and played a prominent role during the Renaissance with the rise of republican city-states like Florence and Venice.6 In the early modern era, republican nation-states emerged in the Netherlands and in revolutionary England under Oliver Cromwell.7 During the Enlightenment, French intellectuals such as Montesquieu and Rousseau developed republican politics in opposition to absolute monarchy, at times aligning it with liberal ideology.8 But it was the French Revolution that created the first republican political movement in France, one destined to shape the future of the nation in the modern era. It also underscored a key theme in the history of republicanism: its association with political extremism and violence. Like Cromwell’s seventeenth-century Commonwealth, the First French Republic of 1794 grew out of regicide; the people became sovereign by executing the king and abolishing the monarchy. Radical measures such as the de-establishment of the Catholic Church and the abolition of slavery in France’s colonies also gave republicanism a revolutionary air. The overthrow of the republic by a military dictator, Napoleon III, further underscored the violence and instability of the movement.9

Throughout the nineteenth century, republicans in France struggled with the movement’s revolutionary heritage. French political history in the 1800s seems like a crazy quilt of republics, dictatorships, and empires, constantly interrupted by revolutionary upheavals: rebels overthrew the national government in 1830, 1848, and 1870.10 At the base of the turmoil, however, was the core tension between republicanism and liberalism, between the emphasis on democracy and the stress on individual freedom. Not for nothing did the liberal prime minister of the July Monarchy, François Guizot, scornfully dismiss those campaigning for universal suffrage by saying that if they wanted to vote, they should get rich.11 How could the radical vision of democracy championed by the Jacobin republic and the sans-culottes of the French Revolution coexist with property rights, the rule of law, and civil liberties?12

The contrast between these two visions of republicanism formed part of the broader struggle throughout Europe and beyond to reconcile popular sovereignty and private property, a struggle that would ultimately create the powerful compromise we know as liberal democracy. In order for republicanism to win the allegiance of the affluent bourgeoisie in particular and the majority of the French population in general, it ultimately had to shed its revolutionary trappings and come to terms with the nation’s established order. The ideal of “the social republic,” a republicanism that emphasized social equality and justice, had to be suppressed, by force of arms if necessary.13 Not until the creation of the Third Republic in 1870 did French republicanism succeed in making this key ideological shift, and not until the republicans’ victory in the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the century did republicanism become the uncontested dominant political ideology and culture in France.

Like earlier progressive regimes, the Third Republic was born out of revolution, a reaction in 1870 to the defeat of the French imperial regime by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War. The challenge for the new Third Republic was to make republicanism respectable. Many republican leaders argued that the new regime could survive only if it renounced its radical heritage; as the new provisional president, Adolphe Thiers, proclaimed, the republic must be conservative, or it would not be.14 The showdown between these two republican visions came in March 1871, when radicals seized control of the Paris city government and staged the armed uprising known as the Paris Commune. The republican government led by Thiers brutally suppressed the Commune, invading the city and conquering it block by block as the rebels fought back behind barricades and set fire to large parts of the capital.15 The defeat of the Commune represented the triumph of bourgeois republicanism in France over its revolutionary alter ego. By the end of the 1870s, republican forces had achieved political dominance in the country. The Third Republic would go on to be the longest-lasting regime in modern French history.16

The idea of the Statue of Liberty took shape in this France wracked by empire, republicanism, and revolution. The life and politics of Édouard de Laboulaye, the man who more than any other conceived of the idea for the monument, illustrate the ways in which the political turbulence of mid-nineteenth-century France shaped the statue that would come to dominate New York Harbor. Laboulaye was born in 1811, at the end of Napoleon’s First Empire, and spent his childhood and youth under the Restoration, the July Monarchy, and the Second Republic. An ardent republican whose hero was the Marquis de Lafayette, Laboulaye was in his early forties when Napoleon smashed the French Republic, replacing it with the Second Empire.17

Bitterly disappointed by this new turn to despotism in France, Laboulaye focused on the United States as a successful example of republican government and popular sovereignty. A professor of law at Paris’s prestigious Collège de France, he became one of the nation’s first and most prominent specialists in the study of the United States, giving popular lectures and courses about America and translating many key American works into French, including the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Like a fellow Frenchman whom he greatly admired, Alexis de Tocqueville, Laboulaye saw in the United States a successful example of moderate and stable republicanism that could serve as a model for France and the rest of Europe.

During the 1860s, in particular, Laboulaye used his admiration of the United States to criticize France’s imperial regime. Much divided the two nations during these years: Napoleon’s regime openly favored the cause of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, and also took advantage of that conflict to intervene in Mexico, overthrowing the government of Benito Juárez in favor of a Habsburg puppet, the emperor Maximilian.18 French censorship prevented Laboulaye from voicing his admiration of the American republic too openly, but he nonetheless made it clear that the United States remained a model of freedom for France. As he wrote in 1862 at the height of the American Civil War,

Frenchmen, who have not forgotten Lafayette nor the glorious memories we left behind us in the new world,—it is your cause which is trying in the United States … This cause has been defended by energetic men for a year with equal courage and ability; our duty is to range ourselves round them, and to hold aloft with a firm hand that old French banner, on which is inscribed, Liberty!19

The 1865 triumph of the North in the Civil War was followed five years later by the collapse of the Second Empire in France and the advent of the Third Republic. The defeat of the Confederacy removed Laboulaye’s one major criticism of the United States, slavery. Like many French liberals a strong abolitionist, Laboulaye had struggled to understand how a regime as noble as the American republic could tolerate such an abomination against human rights. During one of his celebrated lectures at the Collège de France, he commented, “Why is it that this friendship [between France and America] has cooled? Why is it that the name of American is not so dear to us as it was in those days? It is due to slavery.”20 For Laboulaye, the Civil War and the emancipation of America’s slaves reaffirmed his faith in that nation’s republican vision. The overthrow of the Second Empire brought the end of a regime that had antagonized the United States and made France once again a republic. As a result, Laboulaye ardently hoped for an alliance of the two great sister republics, one that would bring liberty and enlightenment to all the peoples of the world.21

By the early 1870s, Laboulaye had developed the idea of a giant statue symbolizing liberty that France would give to the United States in honor of the centennial of the American Revolution.22 At the end of the 1860s he met Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, an ambitious young French sculptor devoted to monumental public art who would make his vision a reality. Bartholdi had long been interested in larger-than-life sculptures, influenced by classical works like the Colossus of Rhodes and the great statues of Thebes in Egypt. In the late 1860s he had designed a great statue, which he called “Egypt Bringing Light to Asia,” for the viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, to stand at the entrance to the new Suez Canal. The project never came to fruition, but in many ways it represented a first exploration of the themes that would culminate with the Statue of Liberty. Most important, the image of a female colossus symbolizing liberty and progress inspired Bartholdi’s creation of the American statue.23

Figure 2: Detail from Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Figure 2: Detail from Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Why would one give the ideal of liberty a female form? There is a long history of female representations of nations and political ideas, one that, as many feminists have trenchantly noted, has often coincided with the political exclusion and suppression of women in real life.24 The ancient Romans celebrated the goddess Libertas, and during the early modern era in Europe, the idea of freedom as a woman challenged the masculine authority of kings. The French Revolution gave birth to the idea of Marianne as the great symbol of the republic, and throughout the modern era she has represented both republicanism and the nation of France in general.25 No painting of modern liberty is better known, or more powerful, than Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Created in the year that the 1830 Revolution overthrew the Restoration monarchy, Delacroix’s great work portrays Liberty as a powerful woman, armed and bare-breasted, leading the insurgents of Paris in the fight for freedom.26

Marianne is the direct ancestor of the Statue of Liberty, but the American monument incorporated some very important changes, symbolizing a different vision of freedom. Most notably, the classic image of Marianne united republicanism and revolution, emphasizing the overthrow of oppression. Key to this vision was the presence on so many Mariannes of the Phrygian cap, the ancient Roman symbol of the freed slave. Throughout the modern era in Europe, as “The Marseillaise” itself demonstrates, the struggle against monarchism and capitalism often adopted the metaphor of the slave uprising.27 Marianne thus represented not just resistance to oppression, but more specifically freedom as the end of slavery. As in Delacroix’s painting, many Mariannes also bore weapons, emphasizing that the fight for liberty was a violent struggle. Finally, Marianne often held a torch of some sort, symbolizing both illumination and also the fires of revolution.

The effort to produce a non-revolutionary Marianne formed a key part of the fight for a conservative vision of republicanism in France. The Paris Commune not only saw the proliferation of Marianne images, usually adorned with red Phrygian caps, but also produced its own Mariannes.28 One of the most dramatic (and for its opponents horrific) images of the Commune was the pétroleuse, or female incendiary; there were persistent rumors that working-class Parisian women were filling empty bottles with gasoline and using these homemade bombs to attack the forces of order and set fires throughout the city.29 The pétroleuse was Delacroix’s Liberty come to life, a revolutionary woman holding a flame in her hand. She symbolized everything bad about republicanism, and the French troops that suppressed the Commune summarily executed women throughout the city suspected of being pétroleuses.30

The new Third Republic sought to craft a more peaceful, less revolutionary image of Marianne after 1870; like the Second Empire before it, it sought to ban the Phrygian cap as part of this symbol.31 More important for our purposes here, the turmoil of the 1870 Revolution and the Paris Commune reinforced Laboulaye’s and Bartholdi’s belief in moderate republicanism and the need to represent it in a monumental symbol. Although neither was actually in Paris during the Commune, both had been close by, and were able to witness the devastation it had wrought firsthand. For them, the French Civil War underscored the dangers of the revolutionary republic, which must be suppressed symbolically as well as in actual combat. Their vision of the Statue of Liberty consequently emphasized freedom’s moderate virtue. The statue is fully clothed, both majestic and modest, unlike the radical harridans of Paris. It also is not wearing a Phrygian cap: as we shall see, the suppression of any links with anti-slavery also had an important American dimension, but in the French context it represented the rejection of freedom as insurrection, so violently embodied by the Paris Commune. In addition, the Statue of Liberty’s torch is carefully contained, a light and not a fire or as Laboulaye put it, “a torch and not a flame,” to illuminate, not destroy.32 The French vision of the Statue of Liberty thus represented a domesticated version of the pétroleuse, weaponless and shorn of all revolutionary intent.33

The evolution of the image of Marianne, and the contest between moderate and radical visions of republicanism, formed part of the struggles around social class that so profoundly shaped life and politics in nineteenth-century France. The moderate republic was to an important degree a bourgeois republic, whereas the ideal of the social republic, often symbolized by Marianne wearing a red Phrygian cap, played an important role in working-class politics and culture. French officials after 1870 resisted popular and working-class desires for a Marianne with a Phrygian cap on the official buildings of the republic.34

At the same time, such conflicts based in social class and class ideologies had an important racial dimension. Differences of race and class have often interacted in modern history, so that working-class Europeans have frequently been racialized as Other.35 During the nineteenth century, many leftists portrayed workers as slaves, and their struggles as a kind of slave uprising; Karl Marx himself called the Paris Commune a revolt against “the would-be slaveholders of France!” and compared it to the American Civil War.36 Others considered the Communards savages, viewing them and Parisian workers in general as unfit for civilization and liberty. For Count Arthur de Gobineau, France’s most prominent racial theorist, the Commune and French workers as a whole represented racial degeneration and debasement, analogous to blacks and other peoples of color.37

Perhaps most important, the triumph of bourgeois republicanism in France coincided with imperial expansion overseas. It is one of the ironies of French history that the regime that overthrew the Second Empire also fostered the nation’s greatest period of imperial expansion. The Third Republic created a massive new empire, expanding and consolidating colonies in Africa, Indochina, and the Pacific, and it did so in the name of republicanism. It presented the strange contradiction of a republican empire without an emperor. The essence of this contradiction was of course racial difference, so that republican France became an empire of black and brown natives ruled over by white citizens.38 The great statue that France bequeathed to the United States in 1886 was therefore far more than a straightforward symbol of liberty. It represented the changing view of republicanism, and freedom in general, in France during the nineteenth century. In particular, it underscored the triumph of a new view of freedom, one that increasingly rejected the concept’s more radical history in favor of the rule of law and respect for the rights of property. This bourgeois vision of liberty also had a significant racial component, especially noteworthy because the Third Republic would not only emphasize conservative republicanism but also go on to create the greatest overseas empire in French history, When Liberty came to America’s shores, this racial dimension, already prefigured in France, would become more important than ever.


The America that welcomed the Statue of Liberty stood poised on the edge of global prominence, while at the same time the country was haunted by the shadows of the recent Civil War. To an even greater extent than in the case of France, the political life of the United States centered around republicanism: the birth of the American nation constituted a definitive break with monarchy, and the United States had always been a republic. As in France, however, there were different visions of republicanism in America. America also faced a choice between more and less inclusive visions of the republic, radical versus conservative republicanism. In America, the key issue dividing republicans (which is to say political thinkers in general) was slavery, and behind it, racial difference.39

Unlike France, the United States began not just as a republic but as a slave republic. The intimate entanglement of freedom and race lay at the heart of the American experience from the beginning. The 1790 Naturalization Act limited citizenship to whites, a legal tradition reinforced by the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which held that even free blacks could not be U.S. citizens. The conflict over slavery led directly to the Civil War, the greatest military conflict in the country’s history, which cost the lives of 600,000 Americans, more than any other war before or since. The importance of the war to U.S. history cannot be overstated: in a sense the true American Revolution, the Civil War made the United States one nation, and set the stage for the unprecedented economic growth of the late nineteenth century and the world dominance of the twentieth.40 Most notable for our purposes, in abolishing slavery and making the freed slaves American citizens, the victory of the Union spelled the end of the white republic.41

Or did it? The Republican Party had been founded in 1854 as a political movement opposed to slavery, yet, as became clear, such opposition could take different forms. For many, including the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, opposition to slavery meant hostility to the presence of blacks, slave or free, on American soil. The republic must reject slavery, but the best way to do so was to get rid of the slaves themselves.42 Lincoln and many other Republicans had come to support the abolition of slavery only reluctantly, and the Emancipation Proclamation provoked furious hostility throughout the North during the war.43 By 1865 the Republicans were clearly divided, not only as to how to rebuild a bitterly divided nation, but more generally about the shape of the American republic in the future. Moderate and conservative Republicans, like Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, wanted not only to reconcile with the defeated South but also to prevent social or political equality for African Americans. In contrast, the Radical Republicans insisted on a thoroughgoing political overhaul of the South, one that would give the freedmen full status as U.S. citizens based on the principle that all Americans were equal regardless of race.44

The conflict between these two perspectives haunted the Reconstruction Era, and ultimately brought it to an end. During the decade after the end of the Civil War, the Radical Republicans controlled the U.S. Congress, using that control to pass sweeping legislation (including the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution) that sought to empower the former slaves as equal citizens of the republic. Most important, they deployed federal troops throughout the former Confederacy to ensure the freedmen’s right to vote, so that during Reconstruction black legislators often controlled the state governments of the South. These efforts were fought tooth and nail not only by white southerners and the Democratic Party that represented them, but also by Andrew Johnson and other moderate Republicans. Resistance to Reconstruction frequently turned violent, especially after a group of ex-Confederate soldiers founded the Ku Klux Klan in 1866, unleashing a wave of white terror against black and white Republicans throughout the South. In 1873, white vigilantes massacred some 150 blacks in Colfax, Louisiana. Two years later, similar terrorists killed hundreds of black men in Mississippi as the Democrats retook control of the state by force.45

For most white southerners, and many northern Republicans as well, the very idea of Reconstruction state governments dominated by blacks was an unthinkable outrage contrary to all civilized norms. The fact that such administrations created the first public school systems in the South meant little to their opponents, who condemned them as corrupt and barbaric. Just as some opponents of the Paris Commune denigrated its members as savages, so opponents of Reconstruction did not hesitate to tie the Radical Republicans to the forces of red revolution. In April 1871, the Charlottesville Weekly Chronicle charged that “[t]he French Reds, like their brethren, the black Radicals of this country, are appealing to a higher law to justify their crimes. They threaten the guillotine in Paris. [The Radicals] would send halters to the leading men of the South. One set is as bad as the other. There is little choice between them.”46

In 1877, the year that saw the triumph of the moderate republic in France, Radical Republican Reconstruction ended in the United States. In 1876 a moderate Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, won a closely contested presidential election, partly on his promise to stop meddling in the affairs of the South. He won southern Democratic support by agreeing to withdraw federal troops from the region, a promise he kept in 1877. With their departure, little prevented white Democrats and the racist terrorists who supported them from ending Reconstruction and the promise of an egalitarian republic. Blacks continued to exercise their right to vote for a while, but starting in the 1890s, southern state legislatures passed new constitutions using the poll tax and other means to effectively disenfranchise them. By the first decade of the twentieth century, white supremacy had destroyed Reconstruction and the dream of an inclusive republic.47

The end of Reconstruction was perhaps the most obvious example of the increasingly racialized nature of American republicanism in the late nineteenth century. In 1877, the country also witnessed a massive series of railway worker protests, which turned into the first general strike in American history. While many hostile observers racialized the strikers as inferior Europeans, the strike leaders frequently and increasingly emphasized the whiteness of the movement.48 Strikers in San Francisco turned the movement into a pogrom against the city’s Chinese.49 In 1882, little more than a decade after laborers from China had helped build the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, America passed the first of several Chinese Exclusion Acts, making it a crime for workers to immigrate to the United States from China.50 The decades after the Civil War also witnessed the final stages of the American wars against Native Americans in the Great Plains, culminating with the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890.51 Moreover, although to a lesser extent than France or Britain, at the end of the century the United States acquired an overseas empire, annexing Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Hawaii in 1898. America’s colonies were, like those of France, largely inhabited by non-whites and subject to authoritarian imperial rule.52 The Civil War and Reconstruction had brought the hope that republicanism in America could embrace all peoples, but by the dawn of the twentieth century, it was clear that America would remain a racialized white republic for the foreseeable future. Racial difference no longer existed as a function of slavery, but now took center stage in American political and social life. As a result, by the turn of the twentieth century, liberty in America was to an important extent for whites only.53

Thus the nation that welcomed the Statue of Liberty in 1886 had embraced its own version of conservative republicanism, one that even more than in France was grounded in racial difference. The image of a Marianne shorn of references to insurgent politics found a ready audience in America. Correspondingly, while Laboulaye and Bartholdi personally supported the abolitionist cause, they designed the statue not to exacerbate what had increasingly become a sore subject in the United States. By the 1880s, the Confederate narrative of the Civil War and Reconstruction, which viewed them as an unfortunate mistake at best, a crime against civilization at worst, had gained traction throughout the country. It remains influential to this day.54

During Bartholdi’s exploratory tour of the U.S. to gauge support for the statue, the new political context became clear to him and influenced his design for his magnum opus. He had originally planned to have the statue hold broken chains in her hand as a symbol of slave emancipation, but he replaced them with a book of law. The Statue of Liberty does in fact include broken chains at her feet, but they are effectively hidden both by her robe and by the pedestal on which she stands. Like the Phrygian cap, therefore, the effective absence of the broken chains distanced the statue not only from slave emancipation but from Radical Republicanism in general.55

Political dynamics in both France and the United States thus served to distance the Statue of Liberty from republican egalitarianism, and in doing so gave it an important racial meaning. The resplendent white lady standing above New York Harbor turned her back on the racialized working masses of Europe and the increasingly marginalized blacks and other peoples of color in America. When Americans celebrated the inauguration of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, they celebrated a racialized vision of liberty; the original statue may not have been black, but the one they embraced was certainly white. Right from the beginning of its history in America, therefore, the Statue of Liberty was a powerful representation of white freedom.


As is well known, the United States met France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty by funding and building a giant pedestal upon which to place it. Funded by a popular subscription launched by American newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer, the massive pedestal and base rise 154 feet from the soil of Liberty Island, slightly taller than the statue itself. The Lady of Liberty thus stands high above New York Harbor, lifting her torch to a height of over 300 feet, and to this day dominating the maritime approach to America’s largest city.56

This image of a woman on a pedestal corresponds to the increasingly conservative images of gender and womanhood during the nineteenth century, in America and throughout the world. We have already seen how the design of the Statue of Liberty represented a more conservative vision of Marianne, illustrating the shift in republicanism in both the United States and France. This shift corresponded to a broader transformation of the image and reality of women’s lives during the nineteenth century, one that historians have characterized as the rise of domesticity. Briefly stated, with the spread of industrial society and bourgeois culture, middle-class women found themselves removed from the world of paid labor and increasingly relegated to the home. While this new idea of femininity certainly did not reflect the lives of working-class women, the bourgeois standard of female behavior and status increasingly characterized what it meant to be a woman in the modern age.57

Liberty standing on a pedestal closely corresponded to the new model of domesticity. She represented a woman prized and cherished, even venerated, but also controlled and fixed firmly in place. Many feminists thus saw in this image an attempt to mask the oppression of women in a gentle guise, praising them as symbols instead of recognizing them as human beings.58 They thus rejected arguments of men like Senator George Vest of Missouri, who in 1887 made this declaration on the floor of the Senate:

It is said that the suffrage is to be given to enlarge the sphere of woman’s influence. Mr. President, it would destroy her influence. It would take her down from that pedestal where she is today, influencing as a mother the minds of her offspring, influencing by her gentle and kindly caress the action of her husband toward the good and pure.59

Scholars have commented on the ambivalent appearance and symbolism of the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps most famously, historian Marvin Trachtenberg observed that not only did it represent a powerful, monumental image of woman, a “great lady,” but at the same time, “for a fee she is open to all for entry and exploration.”60 This incongruity corresponded more generally to new bourgeois ideas of femininity that rendered the ideal woman sexless and subservient while at the same time struggled to repress sexual desire. Freud’s Madonna-whore complex, a powerful representation of this ambivalence about women, thus found expression in the great statue dominating New York Harbor after 1886.61

As many feminist historians have noted, these new ideals of domesticity often intersected with and were mutually reinforced by the new racial hierarchies and racism. In both Europe and America, the proper lady was a white woman who not only kept her distance from subaltern classes and races, but whose presence could also foster the hegemony of white bourgeois civilization. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the creation of new European empires in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific underscored a vision of white womanhood grounded in domesticity and racial privilege. While European women, like European men, had long traveled to the colonies in search of wealth, adventure, or religious service, colonial regimes began promoting the emigration of white women to their empires as wives and mothers.62 Thereby they would not only prevent the need for interracial liaisons between European men and native women, but also domesticate colonial society by centering it around white family life. The rise of white domesticity in the colonies often corresponded to an increased sense of racial barriers and discrimination; historians have long debated whether women themselves embraced colonial racial segregation or whether colonial society used their presence as an excuse to impose it. Creating white domestic life meant, among other things, segregated white neighborhoods and social spaces in colonial cities. Imperial life thus placed the European woman on a pedestal, coming in contact with the natives below only as a benevolent but distant mistress.63

In the United States as well, the presence of the white woman stood for bourgeois domesticity and freedom. Much as in the European colonies, white pioneer women in the American West were seen as crucial to transforming the region from a wilderness populated by savages into a settled and domesticated part of the United States. Wives and mothers, farmwomen and schoolteachers, not saloonkeepers, prostitutes, or cowgirls, were instrumental to the civilizing of the West.64 In no area did the racialized cult of domesticity prove more important than the American South, both before and after the Civil War. Rendered famous by Gone with the Wind, the cult of southern womanhood has a complex history, involving both the embrace of patriarchal society and an emphasis on white women’s empowerment in a variety of spheres ranging from the church to the plantation. The ideal of the southern plantation mistress, in particular, underscored how white women created and symbolized civilization in a society dependent upon the labor of enslaved black women and men.65

The image of the lady on the pedestal was crucial for white southern women, whose gentility depended on their isolation from the realities of slave society. Above all, it meant the complete absence of sexual relations between white women and black men; in contrast, sex between white men and black women was an unacknowledged staple of antebellum southern society. Although several southern states had repealed laws against interracial marriage during the Reconstruction Era, they were soon reenacted throughout the region as part of the reestablishment of white dominance. Miscegenation, seen as the worst possible transgression of this system and a literal violation of the white woman on a pedestal, was vociferously condemned and ruthlessly attacked.66

During the late nineteenth century, this emphasis on white biological and sexual purity became a key component of the form of racial terror known as lynching. White segregationists lynched black men and women as a way of reestablishing white supremacy throughout the South. It soon, however, also became linked to a defense of white womanhood against the threat of black rapists. As South Carolina senator Ben Tillman argued,

We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.67

Although, as contemporary anti-lynching activists such as Ida B. Wells pointed out, most lynchings had nothing at all to do with sexual contact, let alone attempted rape, the idea that white men lynched black men to preserve the honor of white women became a central theme of southern life under Jim Crow. At a time when the image of liberty was enshrined in New York Harbor as a white woman on a pedestal, racial terror became an important means of preserving that ideal in the states of the former Confederacy. Freedom and racial segregation, and the violence needed to preserve racial segregation, coexisted in the idealized white female body.68

As the ultimate representation of the white woman on a pedestal, the Statue of Liberty could thus symbolize not just freedom but also racial conflict, the pure female needing protection from the black rapist and at the same time standing for retribution against black men in general. One Texas journalist, for example, warned New Yorkers about the danger posed to the statue by black men, saying that “some morning [they would] find the old girl with her head mashed in and bearing marks of sexual violence.”69 The ambivalent gender symbolism of the statue, representing both female power and female vulnerability, assumed a more sinister meaning in the context of the racialized politics of late nineteenth-century America.

Figure 3: “O Liberty, What Crimes Are Committed in Thy Name!” Editorial cartoon, “Suggested to a Post-Dispatch Cartoonist by the Springfield Lynching under the Statue of Liberty.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1906, 12.

Figure 3: “O Liberty, What Crimes Are Committed in Thy Name!” Editorial cartoon, “Suggested to a Post-Dispatch Cartoonist by the Springfield Lynching under the Statue of Liberty.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 1906, 12.

In one instance, a replica of the Statue of Liberty played a role in an actual lynching. In the early years of the twentieth century, a series of racial assaults forced many of the African American residents of Missouri’s Ozarks region to flee for their lives. These culminated on April 14, 1906, when an enraged mob of thousands of whites lynched three black men, Horace Duncan, Fred Coker, and Will Allen, in Springfield, Missouri, for having sexually assaulted a white woman, Mina Edwards. The crowd dragged the three men to one of the city’s tallest structures, the Gottfried Tower, which was topped by a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and hanged them from it. An editorial cartoon in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch titled “O Liberty, What Crimes Are Committed in Thy Name!” commemorated the grisly event.

As the cartoon’s title suggests, the use of the Statue of Liberty in a lynching prompted widespread outrage among both black and white Americans. There was a sense that the very notion of freedom had been defiled. The governor of Missouri not only condemned the crime but also argued that the statue should be removed from the Springfield public square until justice was done.70 At the same time, the incident corresponded to a certain symbolic meaning of the Statue of Liberty, notably the role played by ideals of white womanhood in violence against black men. The depiction of three black men being lynched by Lady Liberty dramatically underscored the racialized dimension of America’s greatest monument.71

The white woman on a pedestal epitomized patriarchal control over women in general: at best it was an idea of protection, certainly not freedom. In both Europe and America, the rise of new racial hierarchies during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries created a racialized version of patriarchy, in which the white woman had to be protected from natives of color. That such “protection” entailed strong limits on white women’s agency and social and sexual freedom merely reinforced the importance of white male dominance over both women and men of color. In this context, the Statue of Liberty represented the kind of white female purity that served to justify the racial hierarchies of the time.


For most Americans, the Statue of Liberty symbolizes above all the history of immigration to the United States, particularly immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the classic narrative of American history, it represents the nation’s welcome to the oppressed from throughout the world, and its ability to turn them all into loyal citizens grateful for the freedom they have found on its shores. As an article for the National Park Service has put it,

Between 1886 and 1924, almost 14 million immigrants entered the United States through New York. The Statue of Liberty was a reassuring sign that they had arrived in the land of their dreams. To these anxious newcomers, the Statue’s uplifted torch did not suggest “enlightenment,” as her creators intended, but rather, “welcome.” Over time, Liberty emerged as the “Mother of Exiles,” a symbol of hope to generations of immigrants.72

In a sense, the Statue of Liberty is herself the most famous immigrant in American history.

A closer analysis of the famed statue’s relationship to American immigrants reveals a somewhat different story. In the late nineteenth century, many Americans viewed and portrayed the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of anti-immigrant sentiment.73 Those who embraced nativism and saw the immigrant masses as a religious, racial, and political danger to the republic feared that they would overwhelm not only the statue but the country as a whole. Not until well into the twentieth century did the idea of the statue as a welcoming beacon to immigrants become dominant in American society.

In exploring the reasons for this transformation, we can look to the racial identity of the Statue of Liberty, its representation of the ideal of white freedom. Historians of whiteness have studied the ways in which European immigrants were gradually accepted as white in America, and their relationship with the Statue of Liberty is part of this history.74 In sum, the Statue of Liberty became a welcoming symbol of immigration when European immigrants became white. Those immigrants who gazed rapturously at the magnificent statue upon their arrival in New York Harbor may have seen a symbol of freedom and prosperity, but they also saw a vision of whiteness, and ultimately a vision of what they could become in America. Whiteness and freedom were therefore closely intertwined, as the changing relationship between European immigrants and the Statue of Liberty dramatically illustrates.

From the 1880s until the First World War, the United States witnessed a wave of immigration unprecedented in both its size and its origins. During this period, over 20 million immigrants journeyed to America: whereas in the early nineteenth century roughly 125,000 arrived per year, by the 1880s and 1890s the number jumped to nearly half a million. In 1907 alone, almost 1.3 million came to the United States.75 Moreover, they came from different places. Before the late nineteenth century, most American immigrants were natives of the British Isles (including Ireland), Germany, and Scandinavia. The new immigrants were still primarily from Europe, but starting in the 1880s, they came mostly from the eastern and Mediterranean parts of the continent. Some 4 million Italians journeyed to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and between 1910 and 1920 alone, over 3.5 million people immigrated from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. Included in the latter group were some of the 2 million Jews who came to the United States between the 1880s and the 1920s.76

Thanks to her location in New York Harbor, Lady Liberty had an unobstructed view of this massive human drama. Most European immigrants traveling to America by steamship came first to New York. In 1892 federal authorities turned Ellis Island, just upriver from the statue’s home on Bedloe’s Island, into the nation’s largest immigrant-processing center. The immigrant ships passed by the Statue of Liberty en route to Ellis Island, where they would formally enter the United States. The sight of the great monument to the left was for many their first sight of America, and one of the most dramatic and enduring.

To the immigrants who battled tough times and rough seas, the Statue of Liberty was a welcoming beacon, a mystical madonna who made the homeless newcomers weep, pray and dance for joy.
Swathed in a morning’s mist, the mesmerizing lady of the harbor appeared off to the left of their ships, hailing their entry to the new world. For many, it was the first time they dared to hope.
“The people were screaming and some of them were crying and some of them were dancing. It was all kind of a joyous feeling of coming to the land of freedom and a land of love,” recalled Clara Larsen of New York City who came from Russia in 1911 at age 13.77

By no means did all Americans consider the Statue of Liberty a symbol of welcome to the new immigrants, however. As historian Peter Schrag has pointed out, if America is a land of immigrants, it is also one of anti-immigrant hostility and prejudice.78 The massive new waves of immigration horrified many Americans, who frequently looked down upon the newcomers as ragged, dirty, ignorant, criminal, and in general unfit to be citizens of the United States. Many turned to nativism, a tradition of hostility to foreigners and immigrants that experienced a major rebirth during this era. Led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, the nativists sought to keep foreigners out of the United States, seeing them as a mortal danger to the country.

In an era of heightened racial prejudice, it is not surprising that anti-immigrant hostility frequently crossed the line into overt racism. The beginnings of the twentieth century saw the rise of an influential eugenics movement dedicated to preserving the purity of “American blood” from contamination by outsiders.79 In 1916 Madison Grant published The Passing of the Great Race, a popular work of racial science that warned that immigrants from “non-Nordic races” threatened to overwhelm and ultimately destroy America.80 World War I and the Russian Revolution increased fears of immigrants, who were now also suspected of being dangerous Communists and anarchists. In 1924, nativism triumphed with Congress’s passage of the Johnson-Reed Act, which sharply limited immigration to America.81

Nativists, like many others in American history, adopted the Statue of Liberty to represent their own ideas. If the statue did in fact symbolize America, then it could not belong to the despised immigrant masses thronging into New York. Many argued that Liberty actually stood opposed to the immigrants, struggling to protect the integrity and purity of the American people. A series of cartoons in the late nineteenth century portrayed Liberty as under siege by motley hordes of foreigners, violent anarchists, or other undesirables. In 1892 Thomas Bailey Aldrich published the poem “Unguarded Gates,” summing up the nativist fear of the immigrant threat:

Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
And through them presses a wild motley throng—
Men from the Volga and the Tartar steppes,
Featureless figures of the Hoang-Ho,
Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt, and Slav,
Flying the Old World’s poverty and scorn;
These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,
Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws.
In street and alley what strange tongues are these,
Accents of menace alien to our air,
Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!

O Liberty, white Goddess! Is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow’s children, soothe the hurts of fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of freedom. Have a care
Lest from thy brow the clustered stars be torn
And trampled in the dust. For so of old
The thronging Goth and Vandal trampled Rome,
And where the temples of the Caesars stood
The lean wolf unmolested made her lair.82

In this interpretation, and from the perspective of the nativists in general, the Statue of Liberty did not welcome the new immigrants but in fact sought to protect America against them.

So how did the “white goddess” end up embracing immigrants from Europe in the twentieth century? In answering this question, it is important to note that Southern and Eastern European immigrants were never entirely bereft of white status or privilege—albeit reluctantly, until 1924 America chose to admit them in large numbers, unlike the Chinese, for example. The Johnson-Reed Act imposed strict limits on them, but even stricter ones on hopeful immigrants from Asia or Africa. Nonetheless, it took several decades before European immigrants were fully accepted as Americans, worthy of the benevolent gaze of the Statue of Liberty.

The immigrants themselves, and their descendants, played a key role in this symbolic transformation. Starting with that first spectacular view of the statue rising above New York Harbor, many took it as a symbol of all that America had to offer, and those who succeeded in their new land remembered this initial vision of Liberty with gratitude. Joseph Pulitzer, who arrived penniless in New York during the Civil War and became a prominent newspaper publisher, took the lead in launching the campaign to raise funds for the statue’s pedestal, calling it “the people’s statue.”83 Many other immigrants contributed to the campaign; as one wrote, “I would send you more if I could, as I know how to appreciate liberty, because I am a Jew and emigrated from Russia to this city a few years ago.”84 In 1902 William Flattau, a businessman of Russian origin, built a fifty-five-foot-high scale model of the Statue of Liberty on the roof of his warehouse in Manhattan.85 The descendants of the immigrants would in their own turn champion the statue; Lee Iacocca, the chairman of the Ford Motor Company and the son of Italian immigrants, led the planning of the one-hundredth-anniversary celebration of the Statue of Liberty in 1986.

Nothing more famously symbolizes the idea of the statue as the “Mother of Exiles” than the famous poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. Lazarus herself came from a well-established German Jewish family in New York, and by her early thirties she had carved out a substantial reputation as a poet. By the early 1880s, she had become aware of and was horrified by the antisemitic pogroms in Eastern Europe and the flight of many Russian Jews to America. Their plight inspired in Lazarus a new attention to her own Jewish identity, as well as a determination to do what she could to aid her impoverished co-religionists in New York. Asked by friends to contribute to an art exhibition raising funds for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, she responded by writing the sonnet that would become her most famous work and also firmly link the statue to the history of European immigration.

“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

“The New Colossus” received little attention at the time, and played no role in the formal inauguration of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. In 1903, however, it was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted on the base of the statue.86

Figure 4: Human Statue of Liberty, 1918. Photo by Mole & Thomas. LOT 5357, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Figure 4: Human Statue of Liberty, 1918. Photo by Mole & Thomas. LOT 5357, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Lazarus’s great sonnet, and the fond memories of millions of new Americans who passed through New York Harbor, would ultimately turn the Statue of Liberty into the Mother of Exiles, a symbol of the United States as a nation of immigrants. It would take decades, however, for this new vision of the statue to become dominant; Lazarus’s poem was largely ignored by the American public until the late 1930s.87 By then, major changes in national life had facilitated this transformation. During World War I, the Statue of Liberty became more popular than ever, competing with Uncle Sam as the symbol of American national identity. Pictures of the famous statue were featured prominently on Liberty bonds, at times appealing directly to former immigrants. In August 1918, thousands of American soldiers in Iowa posed for a picture as a living Statue of Liberty before being shipped off to the war in France.88 With the onset of the Second World War, the desperate plight of Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe brought new attention to “The New Colossus” and America’s welcome of an earlier group of immigrant Jews. Many observers noted the contrast between that time and the nation’s failure to admit most Jewish refugees in the 1930s, although the full tragedy of that decision was not clear until the extent of the Holocaust became known. With the United States’ entry into the war, the idea of welcoming the tempest-tost huddled masses once again became important to American identity.

Most important, however, was the change in the immigrants themselves. John Higham has argued that the transformation of the Statue of Liberty became feasible only with the end of mass immigration in 1924.89 Americans could not romanticize European immigration until it had largely receded into the past, and was no longer present in the form of millions of people speaking strange languages, eating strange foods, and crammed into miserable slums. By the 1930s, a nadir of immigration into the United States, not only were there few newcomers in America’s cities and mill towns, but those who had come earlier had adjusted to American life politically, socially, and culturally. Many had learned English, and most of their children had grown up speaking the language fluently. Many immigrants had joined labor unions, but what had been seen as un-American subversion became with the advent of the New Deal in the 1930s a major means of integration into national life. World War II brought new opportunities for national service, and acceptance as equal citizens. By the war’s triumphant end in 1945, the former immigrants were now Americans.90

Figure 5: Arthur Poinier, “Americans All!” Detroit Free Press, June 19, 1941, 6.

Figure 5: Arthur Poinier, “Americans All!” Detroit Free Press, June 19, 1941, 6.

To an important extent, as Matthew Frye Jacobson and other historians of whiteness have observed, that meant being accepted as white.91 This new acceptance of immigrants, and of the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of immigration, took place as part of the process in which immigrants from Europe were gradually embraced as and transformed into white Americans. In 1941 the Detroit Free Press published a cartoon, titled “Americans All!,” that shows a maternal, smiling Statue of Liberty embracing a variety of happy children identified as coming from different immigrant backgrounds. Strikingly, all the children are of European origin and white. In this interpretation, Lady Liberty would welcome immigrants, and consider them Americans, as long as they had white skin.92

The years after World War II reinforced both the broad acceptance of the descendants of European immigrants, now known as white ethnics, and the centrality of their history to the Statue of Liberty as a national symbol of freedom and American identity.90 In 1956 Congress changed the name of the statue’s site from Bedloe’s Island to Liberty Island, and began making plans for a national museum of immigration.93 In 1965 the federal government passed a new immigration law, overturning the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 and removing its racial and geographical restrictions. President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law on Liberty Island at the base of the statue. During the early 1980s, the monument underwent a massive facelift and cleaning in preparation for its one-hundredth anniversary in 1986, which included equipping it with electric lights. That year the Reagan administration orchestrated a huge four-day celebration, “Liberty Weekend,” in honor of the centennial. The theme of immigration occupied pride of place during the ceremony, highlighted by Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger’s naturalization of 16,000 immigrants en masse.94

Some commentators at the time and since noted that these celebrations took place in a period when the United States was debating new restrictions on immigration, calling into question the symbolism of the statue as the Mother of Exiles. To call this hypocrisy is, however, to miss the point, for in a very real sense the Statue of Liberty never celebrated immigration. Rather, as the 1941 cartoon makes clear, it honored the descendants of immigrants who had become Americans, not the immigrants themselves. The centennial apotheosis of the Statue of Liberty took place at a time when most immigrants were coming from Asia and Latin America, not Europe. The statue saluted those of European immigrant background who had achieved whiteness in America while at the same time turning a cold shoulder to those who had not. No one proposed that similar statues be built on the U.S.-Mexican border, in Miami, or on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay to mark these new waves of immigration, and certainly no one suggested that a similar memorial be built in Charleston, South Carolina, or any of the other ports (including New York itself) involved in the Middle Passage. As a symbol of both liberty and European immigration, the Statue of Liberty has to this day remained America’s leading icon of white freedom.


There is nothing comparable to the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom in the modern world. In many different contexts, from the French struggle for republicanism to American debates about immigration, it has stood for human liberty and prosperity. Standing in New York Harbor, at the gateway to the United States from Europe, it has become the quintessential representation of American national identity while equally exemplifying America’s transnational and global presence. The monument has been instrumental in underscoring the belief that liberty is the essence of America’s national life as well as its promise to all the peoples of the world.

But this promise has been shaped by race and racial difference. The Statue of Liberty throughout its history has represented a white vision of freedom, one influenced by developments in France, the United States, and elsewhere. In France, Laboulaye’s vision of the statue emphasized a rejection of revolutionary politics in favor of a moderate republicanism that largely excluded a racialized working class and embraced an imperial vision of the nation-state that created a massive new colonial empire structured by racial difference. In the United States, the statue’s roots in anti-slavery were largely hidden, and it became a symbol of European immigration once, and only once, the descendants of those immigrants had won acceptance as white Americans. The fact that the Statue of Liberty completely ignores what was arguably the greatest freedom story in American history, the struggle to abolish black slavery, is telling. In both countries the very idea of freedom had a racial component, one that helped shape its most monumental representation. In a sense, the Statue of Liberty’s European facial features were no accident: they express the racial aesthetics and politics of liberty in the modern world.

Tyler Stovall served as president of the American Historical Association in 2017. He is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he is also dean of the Humanities Division. He specializes in the history of modern France, in particular the study of labor, urban history, social history, race, and postcolonialism. Stovall has written and edited several books on the subject, including The Rise of the Paris Red Belt (University of California Press, 1990); Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light (Boston, 1996); The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France (Durham, N.C., 2003, co-edited with Sue Peabody); and Transnational France: The Modern History of a Universal Nation (Boulder, Colo., 2015). He is currently working on a global history of the relationship between freedom and race, tentatively titled White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea (forthcoming from Princeton University Press).



  1. Rebecca M. Joseph, “The Black Statue of Liberty Rumor: An Inquiry into the History and Meaning of Bartholdi’s Liberté éclairant le Monde,” National Park Service, 2000, historyculture/black-statue-of-liberty.htm; David Glassberg, “Rethinking the Statue of Liberty: Old Meanings, New Contexts,” National Park Service, 2003, 678/RethinkingTheStatue-Glassberg.pdf; “Making the Case for the African-American Origins of the Statue of Liberty,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 27 (Spring 2000): 65–66. []
  2. On the history of the Statue of Liberty, see in particular Marvin Trachtenberg, The Statue of Liberty, revised ed. (New York, 1986); Edward Berenson, The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story (New Haven, Conn., 2012); Yasmin Sabina Khan, Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty (Ithaca, N.Y., 2010); Wilton S. Dillon and Neil G. Kotler, eds., The Statue of Liberty Revisited: Making a Universal Symbol (1994; repr., Washington, D.C., 2010); John Bodnar, Laura Burt, Jennifer Stinson, and Barbara Truesdell, “The Changing Face of the Statue of Liberty,” National Park Service, Indiana University Center for the Study of History and Memory, 2005, []
  3. Sieglinde Lemke, “Liberty: A Transnational Icon,” in Winfried Fluck, Donald E. Pease, and John Carlos Rowe, eds., Re-Framing the Transnational Turn in American Studies (Hanover, N.H., 2011), 193– 218; Berenson, The Statue of Liberty; Joseph Klaits and Michael H. Haltzel, eds., Liberty/Liberté: The American and French Experiences (Baltimore, 1991). []
  4. One important aspect of this, dating back to the medieval era, was the freedom principle, according to which all slaves brought onto French soil should become free. See Sue Peabody, “There Are No Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime (Oxford, 1996). []
  5. Patrice Higonnet, Sister Republics: The Origins of French and American Republicanism (Cambridge, Mass., 1988); Sudhir Hazareesingh, Intellectual Founders of the Republic: Five Studies in Nineteenth-Century French Political Thought (Oxford, 2001); Edward Berenson, Vincent Duclert, and Christophe Prochasson, eds., The French Republic: History, Values, Debates (Ithaca, N.Y., 2011); Emile Chabal, A Divided Republic: Nation, State and Citizenship in Contemporary France (Cambridge, 2015). []
  6. On the early history of republicanism, see Benjamin Straumann, Crisis and Constitutionalism: Roman Political Thought from the Fall of the Republic to the Age of Revolution (Oxford, 2016); Joy Connolly, The Life of Roman Republicanism (Princeton, N.J., 2017); Mark Jurdjevic, Guardians of Republicanism: The Valori Family in the Florentine Renaissance (Oxford, 2008); James Hankins, ed., Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections (Cambridge, 2004). []
  7. William R. Everdell, The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicanism (Chicago, 2000); John W. Maynor, Republicanism in the Modern World (Cambridge, 2003). []
  8. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, N.Y., 1994); David Wootton, ed., Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, 1649–1776 (Stanford, Calif., 1994). []
  9. Dan Edelstein, The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution (Chicago, 2010); Andrew Jainchill, Reimagining Politics after the Terror: The Republican Origins of French Liberalism (Ithaca, N.Y., 2008). []
  10. André Jardin and André-Jean Tudesq, Restoration and Reaction, 1815–1848, trans. Elborg Forster (Cambridge, 1988); Maurice Agulhon, The Republican Experiment, 1848–1852, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge, 1983). []
  11. Sarah C. Maza, The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie: An Essay on the Social Imaginary, 1750–1850 (Cambridge, Mass., 2003), 148. []
  12. William H. Sewell Jr., Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848 (Cambridge, 1980). []
  13. Michel Borgetto and Robert Lafore, La république sociale: Contribution à l’étude de la question démocratique en France (Paris, 2000); Tyler Stovall, “The Myth of the Liberatory Republic and the Political Culture of Freedom in Imperial France,” Yale French Studies, no. 111 (2007): 89–103. []
  14. Georges Valance, Thiers: Bourgeois et révolutionnaire (Paris, 2007). []
  15. Stewart Edwards, The Paris Commune, 1871 (New York, 1973); John Merriman, Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune (New York, 2014); Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (London, 2015). []
  16. Philip Nord, The Republican Moment: Struggles for Democracy in Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge, Mass., 1998). []
  17. On the life of Laboulaye, see Walter D. Gray, Interpreting American Democracy in France: The Career of E´douard Laboulaye, 1811–1883 (Newark, Del., 1994). []
  18. Michele Cunningham, Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III (New York, 2001). []
  19. Edward Laboulaye, The United States and France (Boston, 1862), 13. []
  20. Édouard Laboulaye, Paris in America, trans. Mary L. Booth (New York, 1863), Translator’s Preface, v. []
  21. Lawrence C. Jennings, French Anti-Slavery: The Movement for the Abolition of Slavery in France, 1802–1848 (Cambridge, 2006); Françoise Vergès, “The Slave Trade, Slavery, and Abolitionism: The Unfinished Debate in France,” in William Mulligan and Maurice Bric, eds., A Global History of Anti-Slavery Politics in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 2013), 198–213; J. R. Oldfield, Transatlantic Abolitionism in the Age of Revolution: An International History of Anti-Slavery, c.1787–1820 (Cambridge, 2013). []
  22. Historians have long contended that Laboulaye and Bartholdi first conceived of the Statue of Liberty at an 1865 dinner party in Laboulaye’s home. This idea has since been refuted. Joseph, “The Black Statue of Liberty Rumor.” []
  23. Khan, Enlightening the World, 53; Berenson, The Statue of Liberty, 16–23. []
  24. Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form (New York, 1985); Barbara A. Babcock and John J. Macaloon, “Everybody’s Gal: Women, Boundaries, and Monuments,” in Dillon and Kotler, The Statue of Liberty Revisited, 79–100. []
  25. See Maurice Agulhon, Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 1789– 1880, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge, 1981). []
  26. Gilles Néret, Eugène Delacroix, 1798–1863: The Prince of Romanticism (Cologne, 1999). []
  27. For example, the little-known second verse of “The Marseillaise” runs thus:

    What do they want this horde of slaves
    Of traitors and conspiratorial kings?
    For whom these vile chains
    These long-prepared irons?
    Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
    What methods must be taken?
    It is us they dare plan
    To return to the old slavery! []

  28. Agulhon, Marianne into Battle, 139–156. []
  29. The pétroleuses were in fact a myth; no convincing evidence of their existence ever came to light. []
  30. Carolyn J. Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune (Bloomington, Ind., 2004); Gay L. Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune (Ithaca, N.Y., 1996); Edith Thomas, The Women Incendiaries: The Inspiring Story of the Women of the Paris Commune Who Took Up Arms in the Fight for Liberty and Equality, trans. James and Starr Atkinson (Chicago, 2007). []
  31. Agulhon, Marianne into Battle, 158–159. []
  32. “She is not liberty with a red cap on her head and a pike in her hand, stepping over corpses.” Laboulaye, cited in Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (New York, 2014), 311. []
  33. See Maurice Agulhon, “Bartholdi’s Liberty in the French Political Context,” in Klaits and Haltzel, Liberty/Liberté, 87–98. []
  34. Agulhon, Marianne into Battle. []
  35. See Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland, and Jane Rendall, Defining the Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender and the British Reform Act of 1867 (Cambridge, 2000). []
  36. Cited in Philip M. Katz, From Appomattox to Montmartre: Americans and the Paris Commune (Cambridge, Mass., 1998), 98. []
  37. Michael D. Biddiss, Father of Racist Ideology: The Social and Political Thought of Count Gobineau (New York, 1970); George L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (New York, 1978). []
  38. On race and colonialism in France, see among many studies Alice L. Conklin, A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895–1930 (Stanford, Calif., 1997); Gary Wilder, The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude and Colonial Humanism between the Two World Wars (Chicago, 2005); Richard Fogarty, Race and War in France: Colonial Subjects in the French Army, 1914–1918 (Baltimore, 2012). []
  39. Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (Oxford, 2009); Scott J. Kester, The Haunted Philosophe: James Madison, Republicanism, and Slavery (Lanham, Md., 2008). []
  40. For a general history of the Civil War, see Allen C. Guelzo, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford, 2012). []
  41. On nineteenth-century black struggles for equality and citizenship, see Stephen Kantrowitz, More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829–1889 (New York, 2012). []
  42. One result of this attitude was the practice of freeing slaves by settling them in Africa. See Eric Burin, Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society (Gainesville, Fla., 2008); Claude A. Clegg III, The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2004). []
  43. Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York, 2010). []
  44. Hans L. Trefousse, The Radical Republicans: Lincoln’s Vanguard for Racial Justice (New York, 1968); Philip B. Lyons, Statesmanship and Reconstruction: Moderate versus Radical Republicans on Restoring the Union after the Civil War (Lanham, Md., 2014); Deborah Beckel, Radical Reform: Interracial Politics in Post-Emancipation North Carolina (Charlottesville, Va., 2011). []
  45. On the history of Reconstruction, see Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction (New York, 2015); A. J. Langguth, After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace (New York, 2015); Douglas R. Egerton, The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era (London, 2015); David Roediger, Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All (London, 2015); Allen W. Trelease, White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction (1971; repr., Baton Rouge, La., 1995). []
  46. Charlottesville Weekly Chronicle, April 7, 1871, cited in Katz, From Appomattox to Montmartre, 112. []
  47. C. Vann Woodward, Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction (1951; repr., New York, 1991). []
  48. Carol A. Horton, Race and the Making of American Liberalism (Oxford, 2005). []
  49. David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, revised ed. (London, 1999), 167–168; Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley, Calif., 1975). []
  50. Andrew Gyory, Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1998); Erika Lee, At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2003). []
  51. Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York, 1972); Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Boston, 2015). []
  52. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876–1917 (New York, 2001); Richard H. Immerman, Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz (Princeton, N.J., 2012). []
  53. Roediger, Seizing Freedom; Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (London, 1991). []
  54. David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, Mass., 2002). []
  55. Khan, Enlightening the World, 104–109. []
  56. Ibid., chaps. 10 and 11; Berenson, The Statue of Liberty, 69–89. []
  57. Mary P. Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790–1865 (Cambridge, 1983); Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: “Women’s Sphere” in New England, 1780– 1835, 2nd ed. (New Haven, Conn., 1997). []
  58. As Gloria Steinem famously quipped, “A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space.” Kathy Duncan, “Gloria Steinem Tells Health Experts: Reproductive Freedom Called Most Basic Liberty,” York Daily Record, April 12, 1977. []
  59. Cited in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper, The History of Woman Suffrage, 6 vols., vol. 4: 1883–1900, ed. Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper (Indianapolis, 1902), 107. []
  60. Trachtenberg, The Statue of Liberty, 196. []
  61. Michael Mason, The Making of Victorian Sexual Attitudes (Oxford, 1994); Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, 1992); Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (London, 1995). []
  62. The classic image of the traveling European woman is that of Miss Sadie Thompson in W. Somerset Maugham’s short story “Rain.” []
  63. Margaret Strobel, European Women and the Second British Empire (Bloomington, Ind., 1991); Margaret MacMillan, Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India (New York, 2007); Julia Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda, eds., Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism (Charlottesville, Va., 1998); Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley, Calif., 2010). []
  64. Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith, Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier (Norman, Okla., 1998); Julie Roy Jeffrey, Frontier Women: “Civilizing” the West? 1840–1880, revised ed. (New York, 1998). []
  65. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988); Catherine Clinton, The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South (New York, 1984); Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (1996; repr., Chapel Hill, N.C., 2004). []
  66. Elise Lemire, “Miscegenation”: Making Race in America (2002; repr., Philadelphia, 2009); Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (Oxford, 2010). []
  67. Cited in Bob Herbert, “The Blight That Is Still with Us,” New York Times, January 22, 2008, See Stephen Kantrowitz, Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2000). []
  68. Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892–1900, ed. Jacqueline Jones Royster (New York, 1996); Crystal N. Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching (Cambridge, Mass., 2011). []
  69. W. C. Brann, Brann, the Iconoclast, 2 vols. (Waco, Tex., 1898), 1: 331. []
  70. See the discussion of this incident in Bodnar, Burt, Stinson, and Truesdell, “The Changing Face of the Statue of Liberty,” 186–188. []
  71. Jenny Fillmer, “1906 Lynchings Grew from Tensions, Racism—Thriving Black Community Died,” Springfield News-Leader, April 14, 2006; Harriet C. Frazier, Lynchings in Missouri, 1803–1981 (Jefferson, N.C., 2009); Kimberly Harper, White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, 1894–1909 (Fayetteville, Ark., 2010). []
  72. “The Immigrant’s Statue,” National Park Service, immigrants-statue.htm. []
  73. Berenson, The Statue of Liberty, 104. []
  74. David R. Roediger, Working toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White—The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York, 2006); Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (1995; repr., London, 2008); Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks, and What That Says about Race in America (New Brunswick, N.J., 1998). []
  75. John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (Westport, Conn., 1981), 124; Berenson, The Statue of Liberty, 105. []
  76. On the history of European immigration to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Roger Daniels, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, 2nd ed. (New York, 2002); Leonard Dinnerstein and David M. Reimers, Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration, 5th ed. (New York, 2009); Vincent J. Cannato, American Passage: The History of Ellis Island (New York, 2010); Marianne Debouzy, ed., In the Shadow of the Statue of Liberty: Immigrants, Workers, and Citizens in the American Republic, 1880–1920 (Urbana, Ill., 1992). []
  77. Eileen Putman, “Immigrants Wept for Joy as They Saw the Statue,” The Dispatch, Lexington, N.C., June 18, 1986, 16. []
  78. Peter Schrag, Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America (Berkeley, Calif., 2010), 1. []
  79. Jonathan P. Spiro, Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant (Burlington, Vt., 2009); Paul A. Lombardo, A Century of Eugenics in America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era (Bloomington, Ind., 2011). []
  80. Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race; or, The Racial Basis of European History (New York, 1916). []
  81. Ibid. See also Higham, Strangers in the Land. []
  82. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, “Unguarded Gates,” Atlantic Monthly 70 (July 1892): 57. []
  83. Cited in Khan, Enlightening the World, 172. []
  84. Rudolph J. Vecoli, “The Lady and the Huddled Masses: The Statue of Liberty as a Symbol of Immigration,” in Dillon and Kotler, The Statue of Liberty Revisited, 39–70, here 41. []
  85. Berenson, The Statue of Liberty, 115–116. []
  86. On Emma Lazarus, see Esther Schor, Emma Lazarus (New York, 2006); Daniel Marom, “Who Is the ‘Mother of Exiles’? Jewish Aspects of Emma Lazarus’s ‘The New Colossus,’” Prooftexts 20, no. 3 (2000): 231–261. My thanks to Bruce Thompson for this reference. []
  87. See Schor, Emma Lazarus. []
  88. Reproduced in Tony Allan, Paris, the Glamour Years, 1919–40 (New York, 1977), 24. []
  89. John Higham, “The Transformation of the Statue of Liberty,” in Higham, Send These to Me: Immigrants in Urban America (Baltimore, 1984), 78–87. []
  90. Roediger, Working toward Whiteness. [] []
  91. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, Mass., 1999). []
  92. Ironically, the cartoon appeared on Juneteenth, the African American holiday celebrating the end of slavery. []
  93. That museum opened on Liberty Island in 1972, then closed in 1991 following the opening of the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration in 1990. []
  94. Richard Stengel, “The Party of the Century,” Time, July 7, 1986, 18. See the discussion of Liberty Weekend in Berenson, The Statue of Liberty, chap. 10. []