“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses …” is on a plaque of the Statue of Liberty pedestal. It’s used to promote unfettered and unrestricted immigration. You should know the truth.
This oft-quoted phrase is actually a small part of a poem. American poet Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) wrote the poem “The New Colossus” in 1883. She donated the poem to raise money for the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. The poem title was a reference to the Greek Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
France gave the statue to America in 1885. After the parts were reassembled and the pedestal was constructed, the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. President Grover Cleveland presided over the event.
But as with every aspect of American history, there’s a lot more to the story. People don’t know what prompted France to design, build, and donate the statue to America. Even less well known is that these familiar words are from a largely unknown poem. Most obscure is what prompted the writing of the poem.
STATUE OF LIBERTY HISTORY
Édouard René de Laboulaye (la-bō-lay’) was president of the French Anti-Slavery Society. As a supporter of the Union’s efforts during the Civil War, he saw the monument as “a common work of both our nations,” freedom for France and an end to slavery in America. Laboulaye was an abolitionist!
He discussed his idea with sculptor Frederic Bartholdi in 1865, who was inspired to design the statue. The framework was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame).
After years of designing, fundraising, building, and with several trips to America, Bartholdi and his extensive team finally completed the statue in 1884. Laboulaye died the year before, having never seen the finished work.
Although the French government agreed to pay to transport the statue to America, the pedestal still had to be built. Fundraising efforts began in 1882. Joseph Pulitzer created a program to raise $100,000 ($2.3 million today). A Davenport, Iowa, kindergarten class mailed in a donation of $1.35.
Poet Emma Lazarus was asked to donate an original poem for an auction of art and literary works. The “Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty” was raising money for the construction of the pedestal.
At first she refused. So Emma had to be persuaded to write something for the fundraising effort. She wrote the sonnet “The New Colossus” in 1883. It was the first entry read at the exhibit’s opening on November 2, 1883. Joseph Pulitzer published her poem in his newspapers.
The pedestal was completed and the Statue of Liberty was finally dedicated in 1886. Lazarus died the following year and her poem fell into obscurity.
Fifteen years later, Georgina Schuyler, a friend of Emma Lazarus, began an effort to memorialize her friend’s poem. In 1903, two decades after the poem was written, a plaque bearing the text of her poem was placed on the pedestal under the Statue of Liberty.
FACT OVER FICTION
The poem is now synonymous with the Statue of Liberty. But I doubt if anyone could tell you who wrote it. And when. And why. Or how it came to be associated with the quintessential monument.
Most people erroneously believe the famous phrase came from the U.S. government. Many people mistakenly believe it’s an immigration mandate.
That’s pure fiction. The fact is that the poem was reluctantly written as one of many artistic and literary works to raise money for the construction of the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands. In addition, the poem wasn’t placed on the statue’s pedestal until 20 years after it was dedicated.
Nevertheless, the phrase “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is now part of the collective American consciousness.
Here’s the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Image from: msn.com