Higham,+_The+Transformation+of+the+Statue+of+Liberty_

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Unformatted text preview: Books by John Higham S E N D Send These To Me: Jews and Other Immigrants in Urban America ‘ THESE Writing American History: Essay: on Modern Scholarship (1970) History (1965) I O M E Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1865—1925 ( I955) Jews and Other Immigrants In Urban America John H igham Athenenm 1975 New York To Eileen Copyright © 1975 by Iohn Higham All right: reserved Library of Congress catalog card number: 74—77844 ISBN 0—689-10617—3 Published simultaneouxly in Canada by M cClelland and Stewart Ltd. Manufactured in the United State: of America by Halliday Lithograph Corporation, W'est Hanover and Plympton, Masxachmett: F irst Edition Chapter F our The Transformation of the Statue of Liberty 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! “1 For nine frustrating years, from 1877 to 1886, a committee of New York business and society leaders collected funds to pay for a pedestal on Which a gigantic Statue of Liberty might stand in New York Harbor. The statue itself, the inspiration and creation of a French sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was under construction in Paris. It was to be a gift to America from the 1. A photoeopy of the original manuscript in the possession of the Ameri- can Jewish Historical Society appears in Heinrich Edward Jacobs, The World of Emma Lazarus (New York, 1949), 178. 78 THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY French people, a symbol and pledge of friendship between the two republics. Americans needed only to erect it properly; yet the task almost exceeded the limits of the sluggish public spirit of the day. At one point, in 1883, when the statue was almost ready to ship and the pedestal only half finished, the Pedestal Fund Committee organized a temporary art exhibition as a fund—raising device. Prominent families lent some of their treasures, and a number of artists and writers gave original drawings and letters for a port— folio which was put up for auction. Emma Lazarus, one of the few proper New Yorkers with some literary credentials, contrib- uted to the portfolio an original sonnet. She called it “The New Colossus”-—a reference to the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the sun god which once stood in the harbor of Rhodes and was known in ancient times as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. On the evening of December 3 the art exhibition opened. A chorus of fifty voices, supported by Theodore Thomas’s orches- tra, sang a “Hymn to Liberty,” especially composed in honor of Bartholdi’s statue. William M. Evarts, former Secretary of State and chairman of the Fund Committee, read the Lazarus sonnet.2 Although the exhibition was adjudged a financial success, the auction was a bit disappointing. The entire portfolio, including the sonnet, sold for $1,500, about half the sum the committee hoped it would bring.3 A finely bred, bookish young lady, Emma Lazarus rarely wrote in a patriotic vein. But this occasion touched obliquely a new and vital concern of hers. Until 1881 she had produced derivative, self— consciously literary verse, the tinkling melodies then fashionable in the world of genteel culture. Belonging to one of the oldest and most secure of New York Jewish families, she had abandoned the synagogue in her youth and had pretty largely lost a sense of Jewish identity. Then the horrifying outbreak of anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia in 1881, and the sight of the first bedraggled refugees arriving in New York, gave her a theme and a mission. 2. “The Pedestal Fund Art Loan Exhibition,” The Art Amateur, X (January, 1884), Supplement, 41—48. ’ 3. Loc. cit., X (February, 1884), 58; The Critic, III (1883), 491. 80 THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY With a new passion, she wrote henceforth mainly as a champion of the Jews. She became the first modern American laureate of their history and culture.‘1 To her the Statue of Liberty, facing seaward, could hold out to all uprooted folk the same message of succor that she, Emma Lazarus, was expressing to and for her fellow Jews. Yet Lazarus took no further interest in the Statue of Liberty once her poem was written. The most authoritative study reports that she never mentioned the statue again. Nor did her con- temporaries pay much heed to “The New Colossus.” When she died in 1887, four years after its composition, obituaries failed to mention it.5 The reviewers of her collected works, which ap- peared in 1889, concentrated on her specifically Jewish poems. One critic conceded that “her noble sonnet” on the Bartholdi statue had given many their “first apprehension of the glory in even the more sordid elements in our American life.”6 Others ignored the poem completely. The most influential critic of the period, Edmund Clarence Stedman, who was a friend and ad- mirer of Emma Lazarus, included several of her poems in his widely read anthologies, but “The New Colossus” was not among them. After the turn of the century Miss Lazarus herself was largely forgotten outside a small Anglo—Jewish literary circle.7 In 1903, on the twentieth anniversary of the writing of “The V New Colossus,” another shy, poetry-loving spinster who be- ‘Xlonged to the old New York aristocracy, Georgina Schuyler, secured permission to put a bronze tablet containing the entire poem on an interior wall of the statue’s pedestal. This she did 4. Allen Guttmann, The I ewish Writer in America: Assimilation and the Crisis of Identity (New York, 1971), 21—15. 5. Hertha Pauli and Ernst Bosch, I Lift My Lamp: The Way of a Symbol (New York, 1948), 303, 320. See also the tributes printed in The Critic, VIII (1887), 293—95, 317—18. 6. “The Poems of Emma Lazarus,” The Literary Review, XX (1889), 36. Cf. Solomon Solis-Cohen, “The Poems of Emma Lazarus,” The American, XVII (1889), 295—97; “The Poems of Emma Lazarus,” The Spectator, LXIII (1889), 608—9. 7. Edmund Clarence Stedman, An American Anthology, 1787—1900 (Bos- ton, 1900), and A Library of American Literature From the Earliest Settle- ment to the Present Time (New York, 1889); Warwick James Price, “Three Forgotten Poetesses,” Forum, XLVII (1912), 361—76. THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY 81 primarily as a memorial to Lazarus, whom she evidently had known and admired. The event passed without ceremony or public notice.8 In fact, the poem rested there for another thirty years without attracting any publicity at all. This long neglect is remarkable, for the ideas that the poem expressed were deeply ingrained in American tradition. The con- cept of America as a refuge from European oppression supplied one of the original, fertilizing elements of our national conscious- ness. Jefferson, Emerson, Lowell, and many a lesser patriot had voiced its continuing appeal. In the late nineteenth century, however, pride in America’s receptive mission dimmed. A grad— ual liberalization of political institutions throughout most of Europe blurred the once sharp image of the immigrant as one who had been unfree in his native country. Meanwhile, the new problems of an urban, industrial age inspired a strong movement in America to restrict immigration. By 1886, when the New Colossus was unveiled upon her completed pedestal, there was already considerable alarm about the huddled masses pouring through the golden door. The lavish dedication ceremonies tran— spired without a single reference to the Lazarus sonnet and without serious attention to its theme. Instead, President Grover Cleveland discoursed grandiloquently on the stream of light that would radiate outward into “the darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world.” And the New York World, which sparked the final, successful fund—raising campaign to pay for the pedestal, declared that the statue would stand forever as a warning against lawlessness and anarchy and as “an emblem of that true fraternity which binds us . . . to every struggling nation that dares to strike for freedom."9 The rhetoric of the inaugural concentrated almost exclusively on two subjects: the beneficent effect on other countries of American ideas, and the desirability of international friendship and peace. 8. Pauli and Busch, I Lift My Lamp, 321. On Georgina Schuyler see Francis Greenwood Peabody, Reminiscences of Present-Day Saints (Boston, I z ), 2 3— . 997. AIier3Gschaedler, True Light on the Statue of Liberty and Its Creator (Narberth, Pa., 1966), 148; New York World, October 29, 1886, p. 4. In the same vein see also John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Bartholdi Statue,” The Critic, VI (1886), 225. 82 THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY Not only the uneasy mood of the time but also the statue itself resisted the generous construction Emma Lazarus placed upon it. The creators of the monument did not intend a symbol of wel- come. Bartholdi and the French liberals who supported his work prized AmeriCa not as an asylum but as an example of republican stability. They constructed a passive figure, austere and stern- visaged, a model of frozen perfection. Their primary objects were to commemorate France’s participation in the War of American Independence and to strengthen Franco—American friendship. The statue had been devised as an exhibit at the Phila- delphia Exposition of 1876, which marked the one hundredth anniversary of American independence. Only the raised arm, holding a torch, was completed in time for that occasion. But the Exposition publicized the project, and in doing so fixed in Ameri- can minds the original identification of the statue with national independence.10 The meaning of the statue would have to change profoundly before Americans could see its uplifted torch as a beckoning light to the huddled masses of the Old World. The immigrants themselves wrought that transformation as they arrived in this country in the years after the statue was erected. The vast majority debarked at New York, and to every exultant heart and straining eye this first American presence was a profoundly moving sight. The immigrants perceived the statue as waiting for them, big with promise. They saw it not as a beacon to other lands but as a redemptive salutation to them- selves. The memory of that awesome moment and the unspoken greeting it contained was a thing to cherish, a thing to tell one’s children about. In 1906 Edward A. Steiner, an immigrant writer who obviously had not heard of Emma Lazarus’s poem, predicted that a great poet would someday put into words the inspiring emotions that millions of immigrants felt on encountering “this new divinity into whose keeping they now entrust themselves.”11 10. Gschaedler, True Light, 44—45, 63, 72. 11. Edward A. Steiner, On the Trail of the [migrant (New York, 1906), 60. See also Broughton Brandenburg, Imported Americans: The Story of the Experience: of a Dirguised American and His Wife Studying the Immigra- tion Question (New York, 1904), 204, and Louis Adamic, Laughing in the Iungle: The Autobiography of an Immigrant in America (New York, I932). 40- THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY Decades passed, however, before the immigrants’ interpretation of the statue penetrated the official culture of the United States. While a bitter controversy over immigration pitted older against newer American groups, the Statue of Liberty remained for most citizens an aloof, impersonal symbol, conveying a warning rather than a welcome to the outside world. Native-bom Americans were not unaware of the special meaning the statue had for immigrants. Within a year of its dedication, a leading illustrated news magazine published a large handsome drawing of immi- grants gazing joyfully at Bartholdi’s Colossus from the steerage deck of an incoming vessel.12 But the perception remained inert; it lacked any mythic power. The early custodians of the statue (the Light-House Board, then' the War Department) attempted no interpretation of it. The National Park Service, which took jurisdiction in 193 3, clung to the traditional motifs—Franco- American friendship and liberty as an abstract idea. On the statue’s fiftieth anniversary, in 1936, patriotic organizations and public schools promoted a nationwide celebration which kept the usual themes steadily at the fore. Speaking at the base of the statue, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a little bolder than most, at least mentioned the immigrants’ search for freedom. But he quickly assured his hearers that it was a thing of the past. “We have within our shores today the materials out of which we shall continue to build an even better home for liberty.”13 Ironically, it was the termination of mass immigration that eventually made possible a general acceptance of the meaning Emma Lazarus and the immigrants attached to the Statue of Liberty. After the restrictive Immigration Act of 1924, immigra— tion as a mass movement receded into history. Meanwhile, the children of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe grew up into full participation in American life. To ease their Ameri- canization, public school curricula devoted increasing attention 12. Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, LXIV (1887), 324—2 5. 13. Walter Hugins, Statue of Liberty National Monument: Its Origin, Development, and Administration (US. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1958), 7—14, 45—47, 76—77; John J. Heimburger, “Statue of Liberty: An American Tradition,” School Life, XXII (October, 1936), 35— 36; B. D. Zevin, ed., Nothing to Fear: The Selected Addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1932—1945 (Cambridge, Mass., 1946), 71. 84 THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY to the immigrants’ love for and contributions to America. By 1926 fourth-grade children in St. Louis, Missouri, were studying the Statue of Liberty with the object of understanding what it meant to immigrants. By then some of the textbooks on Ameri- can history included photographs of immigrants saluting the statue as they entered New York Harbor.“ That immobile figure, fixed on her pedestal, gradually joined the covered wagon as a symbol of the migrations that had made America.15 In the late 1930’s, more than fifty years after its composition, Emma Lazarus’s poem finally attracted public interest. The event that called it forth from obscurity was a recurrence of the very problem that had moved the poet in the first place: the plight of Jewish refugees. Their efforts to escape Nazi barbarism coincided with a growing revulsion of American opinion against racism and with a steady movement of the United States toward war with Germany. In contrast to the situation in the 1880’s, when Ameri— cans were turning away from a cosmopolitan, humane outlook, the circumstances of the late 1930’s united a particular concern for the Jews with a broader movement to strengthen ethnic democracy. Immigration policy did not change significantly. But a nation striving to overcome its own ethnic hatreds, to dignify influential minority groups, and to gird for war against Hitler needed to define itself anew as a bastion against persecution.16 Louis Adamic, a Yugoslavian-American journalist, did more than anyone else to popularize “The New Colossus.” About 1934 he launched a one-man crusade to elevate the status of the recent immigrant groups and to propagate an eclectic sense of American 14. St. Louis, Missouri, Board of Education, Social Studies for Kinder- garten and Grades I—Vl (Curriculum Bulletin No. 6, St. Louis, 1926), 176—77; Charles A. Beard and William C. Bagley, The History of the American People (New York, 1923), 501; Grace A. Turkington, My Country, A Text- book in Civics and Patriotism for Young Americans (Boston, 1923), 38—39; Howard C. Hill, Community and Vocational Civics (Boston, 1928), 121. Earlier editions of the Beard and Bagley book in 1921 and 1922 had nothing on the Statue of Liberty. 15. The two symbols actually converged on the cover of Eugene C. Barker et al., The Story of Our Country (Evanston, Ill., 1941). 16. James Benet, “Mother of Exiles,” New Republic, LXXXIX (1936), 108—9; Louis Adamic, America and the Refugees (Public Affairs Pamphlet No. 29, 1939); The Atlantic, “We Americans” (Boston, 1939). THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY 85 nationality. His immediate object was not to revise the immigra- tion laws but to get American history rewritten along lines that would recognize the contributions of the newer ethnic groups. After 1938 he adopted the Lazarus sonnet as the keynote of practically everything he wrote or said. He quoted it endlessly in books, pamphlets, and public lectures." During the 1940’s the words of the poem became a familiar litany in mass circulation magazines, children’s stories, and high-school history texts.18 In 1945 Georgina Schuyler’s commemorative tablet was moved from the second-story landing to the main entrance of the statue. Beginning in 1948, the World Almanac included the poem as a regular feature. Curiosity about its forgotten author awakened. Now she seemed less a Jewish than an American poet, a human statue of liberty. According to the title of one rapturous biog- raphy, she was Emma Lazarus, Woman with a Torch.19 The acclaim resounded in spite of a nagging difficulty in the text of the famous sonnet. To call America “Mother of Exiles” was splendid. To describe the immigrants as “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was well enough. To label them “wretched refuse,” however, was downright offensive. The con— descension may have been innocent enough. Possibly, as a recent defender of Lazarus has argued, she was using “wretched” and “refuse” in a non-pejorative sense. “Wretched” had once meant distressed or afflicted, rather than despicable; “refuse” had meant 17. Louis Adamic, “Thirty Million New Americans,” Harper’s Magazine, CLXIX (November, 1934), 684—94; My America, 1928—1938 (New York, 1938), 195; From Many Lands (New York, 1940), 292; Two Way Passage (New York, 1941), 49. See also R. Alan Lawson, The Failure of Independent Liberalism, 1930—1941 (New York, 1971), 151—54. 18. A few examples may suffice: Francis Rowsome, “When Liberty Was Imported,” American Mercury, LVII (1943), 72—79; “She’s Still 9 Thriller,” Rotarian, LXXIV (May, 1949), 16—19; Donald C. Peattie, “Liberty,” Reader’s Digest, LV (Se tember, 1949), inside back cover; Myrtle Roberts, Pattern for Freedom: A) History of the United States (Philadelphia, 1953), 474—75; Matilda Bailey, The World of America: The Mastery of Reading (New York, 1956), 117-19. 19. Bernard Postal, “The Sonnet of Liberty,” Coronet, XLVIII (May, 1960), 82; Eve Merriam, Emma Lazarus, Woman with a Torch (New Yor , 1956). One article, Ann Batchelder’s “Emma in Retrospect,” Ladies’ Home Journal, LVIII (June, 1941), 153, avoided any mention of her Jewish writings and affiliation. 86 THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY what is rejected regardless of value, not what is worthless. In the 1880’s, however, the words were already laden with disparage- ment. Life, a popular magazine, contrasted “the refuse of foreign populations” with “the very flower of manhood and woman- hood” who “composed the nucleus of the nation.”20 Lazarus’s unguarded phrase must have hurt. But the poem was too keenly needed to be damaged greatly by a phrase. Readers slid over the words, heating only their music, dwelling on images of travail and redemption. The unquestioning enthusiasm for Emma Lazarus’s poem was closely entwined with an enormous growth in the popularity of the statue itself as a national symbol. Like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the statue continued to be an embodiment of the national idea; but its special identification with millions of immi- grants humanized the statue to a degree unequaled by any other monument. Attendance soared in 1940. and again in 1941. The N ew Y or]: Time: called the statue “our No. 1 symbol.” A National Park Service superintendent reported that Visitors al- most always treated it with profound respect.21 The boom rolled on through the postwar years. In 1954 nearly 800,000 visitors crowded the little ferries that shuttled back and forth from Manhattan to Bedloe’s Island. The US. Postal Service that year produced a veritable explosion of statuesque symbolism. Having first appeared on a postage stamp in 1922, as one among a variety of notable American scenes, the Statue of Liberty was featured in the 1940’s on a one-cent “National Defense” stamp and on a special overseas airmail stamp. These earlier uses paled in comparison with a literally dazzling display of the statue on the new three-cent, eight-cent, and eleven-cent stamps of the stand- ard series inaugurated in 1954. Here a glow of divinity enveloped Bartholdi‘s mundane figure. Behind its diademed head a radiant 20. Letter, Samuel H. Monk to Editor, Timer Literary Supplement, August 14, 1969, p. 907; Life, XII (July 19, 1888), 30. See also the debates of the California constitutional convention of 1850, quoted in Leonard Pitt, “The Beginnings of Nativism in California,” Pacific Historical Review, XXX (February, 1961), 27. 21. “Our No. 1 Symbol,” New York Time: Magazine, June 22, 1941, p. 13; “Life Visits the Statue of Liberty,” Life, X (June 2, 1941), 94—97; “Liv- ing with a Goddess," American Magazine, CLIX (June 1955), 49. THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE STATUE OF LIBERTY halo lit the sky; and within the halo appeared the motto, “In God We Trust.”22 Meanwhile planning began for a national museum of immigra- tion in the base of the statue. After some years the museum materialized; and its location further confirmed the new identity the statue had taken on. So long as millions of immigrants entered “the golden door,” the Statue of Liberty was unresponsive to them; it served other purposes. After the immigrant ships no longer passed under the New Colossus in significant numbers, it enshrined the immigrant experience as a transcendental national memory. Because few Americans now were immigrants, all could think of themselves as having been immigrants. The Statue of Liberty helped them to do so. Since it belonged to all the people and on the broadest level symbolized the nation as a whole, the statue connected the special heritage of newer Americans with the civic principles of all Americans. Fundamentally, the new meaning engrafted on the Statue of Liberty in the second quarter of the twentieth century worked to close the rift that mass immigration had opened in American society. Yet the revival of the myth of America as a refuge for the oppressed was not merely retrospective, not simply a healing message for domestic purposes. The reality of asylum in America never entirely disappeared, and the celebration of the immigrant experience in the mid-twentieth century encouraged fresh efforts to live up to the ideals of “The New Colossus.” In 1965 Congress repealed the discriminatory features of the Immigration Law of 1924. President Lyndon B. Johnson, signing the new law at the base of the Statue of Liberty, alluded to the Lazarus poem and declared that the nation was returning “to the finest of its tradi- tions.” In the same spirit the President used the occasion to announce a large-scale program for reception of refugees from Cuba.23 Emma Lazarus would have approved. 22. US. Postal Service, Postage Stamps of the United States (Washing- ton, DC. 1970).“. 103, 117, 145-46. 23. Washington Post, October 4, 1965, pp. A6—7. ...
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