The construction of the Statue of Liberty was a joint project between France and the United States. France was supposed to build the copper statue of a woman raising a torch, and the United States was supposed to build her pedestal.
But for a while, it wasn’t clear if the statue would go up in New York City. When the Statue of Liberty arrived (in pieces) in New York Harbor in June 1885, the pedestal was still under construction and fundraisers were still raising the money to finish it.
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Congress and the governor wouldn’t fund it
Discussions about France building a statue for the United States began about 20 years before the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York City. French historian Édouard de Laboulaye first proposed the idea around 1865, the year the Civil War ended and the United States began to abolish slavery.
De Laboulaye, an abolitionist and defender of democracy, believed that funding a statue celebrating the victory of the United States would strengthen support for democracy in France, then under the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew. French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi agreed to design the statue, which was called Freedom enlightening the world.
When Bartholdi campaigned for public support for the statue in the United States, he promoted the statue as a commemoration of the American centenary on July 4, 1876, which marked a century since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The statue was far from ready by the time of the centennial, but even when the statue arrived in New York City nearly a decade later, the U.S. Statue of Liberty Committee still hadn’t raised the 250,000 to $ 300,000 needed to build the pedestal.
Most of the money the committee had raised so far had likely come in the form of donations from wealthy Americans. There was no federal funding for the pedestal because the US Congress could not agree on a spending program, says Alan Kraut, professor of history at American University and chairman of the advisory committee of History of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. .
“There was a lot of disagreement and a lot of wrangling over who should pay the money,” he says. Some “were all in favor of the statues of [the Marquis de] Lafayette and George Washington ”, and didn’t want the Statue of Liberty because they“ thought the concept of freedom was a bit too abstract ”.
Additionally, New York Gov. Grover Cleveland, before becoming president in 1885, said New York City could not use its municipal government funds to pay for the pedestal. Other cities like Boston and Philadelphia expressed interest in funding the pedestal, but that was naturally on condition that the statue be moved to their city.
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Pulitzer’s journal solicited funds from the public
Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant and wealthy newspaper editor, supported the erection of the statue in New York City. On March 16, 1885, he asked the readers of his newspaper to New York World send donations for the pedestal.
“We have to raise the money!” he wrote in his New York newspaper. “The World is the people’s newspaper, and now he’s calling on the people to come forward and collect the money… Let’s not wait for the millionaires to give us that money. This is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift from all the people of France to all the people of America.
Pulitzer printed the names of people who donated in the newspaper, and often included details that donors supposedly sent him about why they were giving or how they found the money. (Despite his criticism of millionaires for not donating enough money to the pedestal, it’s not clear if the wealthy newspaper owner donated his own money to the cause.)
The newspaper’s fundraising campaign succeeded: succeeded: by August 1885, more than 120,000 people had donated more than $ 100,000 – enough money to complete the pedestal. On October 28, 1886, President (and former New York Governor) Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
Thereafter, Pulitzer continued to promote his role in raising funds for the statue.
“The people of New York realized the role Pulitzer had played, and Pulitzer never hesitated to remind them of that,” Kraut said. “Because after all, he was a man with a newspaper to sell.”
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