Unexpected Reason Why France Give US the Statue of Liberty?

Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty was gifted to the United States in 1884.
Last modified: January 8, 2023

On the 4th of July 1884, the colossal neoclassical sculpture “Liberty Enlightening the World,” was gifted to the people of the United States by the people of France. It was later renamed the Statue of Liberty.

Why did France give US the Statue of Liberty?

France gifted the Statue of Liberty to commemorate the centennial of the end of the Revolutionary War in 1776.

There were three separate parts of the gift:

  1. Firstly, the sculpture was gifted to celebrate an important milestone for the nation. 
  2. Secondly, France wanted to commemorate their alliance with the United States during the Revolutionary War
  3. Finally, the creators of the sculpture, Edouard de Laboulaye, and Auguste Bartholdi hoped it would inspire the French people to follow the example set by the United States.

Statistics about the Statue of Liberty:

  • The Statue of Liberty is 93 meters (305 feet) tall, including its pedestal, and weighs approximately 225 tons.
  • The statue is made of copper sheets that are only 3/32 of an inch thick and are supported by an internal steel frame.
  • The torch that the Statue of Liberty holds in her right hand is made of gold-plated copper and is 3 meters (10 feet) tall. The torch is not open to the public, but a replica of it is displayed at the statue’s base.

A Landmark to Celebrate a Milestone

The reason given most openly for the gifting of the Statue of Liberty, which now stands proudly on Liberty Island in the bay of New York City, was the centennial anniversary of United States independence.

Liberty Island
Liberty Island is home to the Statue of Liberty.

French historian and abolitionist Edouard de Laboulaye proposed building a mighty monument as a gift for the people of the United States to commemorate their achievements as an independent nation.

The monument was to pay homage not only to a century of American democracy but also to the liberation of African American slaves. This monument was to be an ode to liberty and freedom.

By 1870, sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi had been chosen to create designs. 

The design we all know and love today was most likely based in part on the statue Bartholdi had previously proposed for the opening of the Suez Canal.

Fontaine Bartholdi
Bartholdi also designed the Fontaine Bartholdi situated on the Place des Terreaux in Lyon, France.

This landmark sculpture had the unexpected consequence of rekindling the cool relationship that had formed between France and the United States in the century following American independence

To fund the creation, movement, and mounting of the statue, Labuolate and Bartholdi created the Franco-American union, which raised 600,00 francs and 100,000 dollars to construct Lady Liberty.

Honoring Old Alliances

A secondary motive for creating the Statue of Liberty was to honor and strengthen the kinship and alliance that had formed between the United States and France during the American Revolution.

When America made its bid for freedom, France answered their call for help.

Revolutionary War reenactment
France aided the colonists during the American Revolution.

After the war began in 1775, revolutionary colonists knew they were an isolated force facing one of the world’s dominant powers. 

The British Empire spanned the globe, and the colonists knew they would need help, so they turned to an old enemy of England. 

France had aided Scotland in her wars against England before the Union of the Parliaments. Therefore it made sense that she would aid America.

Of course, the colonists were correct, and France initially offered covert aid and later a full alliance.

Wholesale French support

Sympathetic to the idea of being subject to the rule of an unelected body (in France’s case, a monarchy) and taxed to fund its plans, the French people felt for the colonists. 

Versailles
The French monarchy sought to undermine their old foe.

The French monarchy was more interested in biting at its old enemy than democratic representation.

Whatever their reasons for entering the war, the French did. Their assistance was invaluable to the revolutionary cause and the creation of American liberty and freedom as we know it today. 

France gave the Statue of Liberty to the United States partly to commemorate this connection and camaraderie.

Lighting Liberty’s Way Across the World

Laboulaye and Bartholdi had a third motive for pushing the construction and gifting of the Statue of Liberty. 

In 1865 France was experiencing internal divisions between those committed to a constitutional monarchy and the idea of the divine right of kings and those who wanted democratic processes and progress.

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty.

Edouard de Laboulaye and Frederic Auguste Bartholdi supported the concept of liberty, dignity, and justice for all people, but these concepts could be controversial in the 19th century. Particularly in France. 

Liberty was indelibly connected with the idea of revolution in some minds. Laboulaye and Bartholdi wanted to show that this needn’t be so.

While Lady Liberty was often depicted holding a sword, in 19th-century art, Bartholdi opted for a more balanced and tranquil image. His Lady Liberty was to hold a torch and light the way for others to follow her. 

The style hailed back to classical sculptures, and her face was designed to be serene and mildly androgynous.

propaganda poster
The Statue of Liberty is a celebration of the resilience of the American people.

The Statue of Liberty was, in part, gifted to the United States as a statement and a call to action. She was a celebration of what America had achieved but also a reminder to France that liberty should be above politics, that liberty was the natural state and divine right of all people.

Last But Not Least – Laboulaye’s Personal Reason

As the driving force behind the creation and gifting of the Statue of Liberty, Edouard de Laboulaye is often viewed as a benevolent and selfless political visionary. 

While it is true that Laboulaye was an abolitionist who firmly believed in the pursuit of, and right to, liberty within the working classes, his motives were not entirely selfless.

Laboulaye’s reputation had suffered amongst the pro-monarchists because of his liberal beliefs. 

Statue of Liberty
Laboulaye had a personal motivation for his involvement in the Statue of Liberty project.

However, he also faced opposition from the liberal revolutionaries of France because of his anti-violence stance. In 1871, France experienced an uprising among the middle and working classes.

Governmental forces brutally crushed this uprising, and despite his liberal views, Laboulaye supported the governmental repression of this uprising. 

Furthermore, he spoke out against violent protests and earned sharp criticism from his colleagues as a direct result.

An exercise in reputation rehabilitation?

The creation, funding, and donation of the Statue of Liberty could arguably be seen as a reputation repair project. 

While Laboulaye remained staunchly opposed to violence, the Statue of Liberty project presented an opportunity for him to reframe his stance as enlightened and temperate rather than conciliatory.

So, while there were two public reasons why France gifted the United States Lady Liberty, there were two other, more private, reasons why Bartholdi and Laboulaye worked so hard to raise funds and bring the Statue of Liberty to life.

Quiz Questions About The Statue of Liberty:

Questions:

  1. Why did France gift the United States the Statue of Liberty?
    A. To honor their alliance during the Revolutionary War
    B. To inspire the French people to follow the example set by the United States
    C. To celebrate an important milestone for the nation
    D. All of the above

  2. What is the height of the Statue of Liberty, including its pedestal?
    A. 93 meters (305 feet)
    B. 45 meters (150 feet)
    C. 63 meters (207 feet)
    D. 83 meters (272 feet)

  3. What is the torch held by the Statue of Liberty made of?
    A. Gold-plated copper
    B. Stainless steel
    C. Bronze
    D. Silver

  4. What was the secondary motive for creating the Statue of Liberty?
    A. To honor and strengthen the alliance between the United States and France during the American Revolution B. To inspire the French people to follow the example set by the United States
    C. To celebrate an important milestone for the nation
    D. To pay homage to the liberation of African American slaves

  5. Why did France initially offer covert aid and later a full alliance to the colonists during the American Revolution?
    A. To honor and strengthen the alliance between the United States and France
    B. To undermine their old foe, the British Empire
    C. To show support for the idea of being subject to the rule of an unelected body and taxed to fund its plans
    D. All of the above

Answers:

  1. D. All of the above
  2. A. 93 meters (305 feet)
  3. A. Gold-plated copper
  4. A. To honor and strengthen the alliance between the United States and France during the American Revolution
  5. D. All of the above

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