Tuesday, June 29, 2010

With Liberty and Justice for All

The Fourth of July is rapidly approaching. For many Americans that means a long holiday weekend and maybe a nice barbecue with the family. It should mean more. It's ironic that a country that is a beacon for freedom and liberty around the world is taken for granted by so many of its own citizens. We who were born Americans too often believe that the rights and freedoms we enjoy are our birthright. We lose sight of the struggles of those who came before who fought and died for these freedoms. The America we know was forged in a crucible of conflict, from the Revolutionary War and all the wars fought since to preserve the ideals on which our country is built. The notion of "liberty and justice for all" was born in America and lives on today because brave people gave their lives to preserve it.

I'm not naive enough to believe our country is perfect. Justice and equality came more slowly for some than others; for some the struggle continues. What I do believe is that no country has done more to live by the ideals that earmark a great and enlightened society than America. We may stumble at times, even lose our way, but the inexorable march toward liberty and justice for all never comes to a halt. Americans are free to practice the religion of their choice, live where they choose, speak their minds, even openly criticize their leaders, because these rights are protected by arguably the greatest document ever written, the Constitution of the United States. The measure of America's greatness is the number of people risking all to get into this country. The number leaving is a whole lot smaller.

I've written at length about the brave immigrants, including my own ancestors, who left their homelands to come to America. I've spoken about the courage it must have taken to leave behind all that was familiar to come to a place that was unknown to them. There is another viewpoint on that. In so many interviews I've seen and read about, with people who immigrated to America, they don't talk so much about running away from something as running to something. Their voices fill with emotion as they recall how their hearts nearly burst with joy on seeing the Statue of Liberty when they entered New York harbor. Many knelt and literally kissed the ground of the country they were so happy to be entering. I think sometimes we native-born Americans need to step back and look at our country through their eyes.

Ken Burns recently put together a documentary on how the Statue of Liberty came to America as a gift from our sister republic, France. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture with the year 1876 in mind for completion, to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. The Statue was a joint effort between America and France and it was agreed that the American people were to build the pedestal, and the French people were responsible for the Statue and its assembly here in the United States. However, lack of funds was a problem on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In France, public fees, various forms of entertainment, and a lottery were among the methods used to raise funds. In the United States, benefit theatrical events, art exhibitions, auctions and prize fights assisted in providing needed funds.

Joseph Pulitzer (noted for the Pulitzer Prize) opened up the editorial pages of his newspaper, "The World" to support the fund raising effort. Pulitzer used his newspaper to criticize both the rich who had failed to finance the pedestal construction, and the middle class who were content to rely upon the wealthy to provide the funds. He said that the statue was not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but from the people of France to the people of America. Pulitzer's campaign was successful in motivating the people of America to donate. Over $130,000 was raised, much of it from donations of one dollar or less. The Statue was completed in France in July, 1884 and arrived in New York Harbor in June of 1885 on board the French frigate "Isere". The Statue was re-assembled on her new pedestal in four months time. On October 28th 1886, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty took place in front of thousands of spectators. She was a centennial gift ten years late.

We all know the famous Emma Lazarus lines associated with the Statue of Liberty as a welcoming beacon for downtrodden immigrants, but most of us don't remember that the lines came from a longer poem by Lazarus called "The Great Colossus":

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!”

Take a moment out from your busy holiday weekend and thank God that you were born in the greatest country the world has ever known. Happy Fourth of July.


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Christian said...

Great post!

Jim Pantaleno said...

Thanks, nice to see someone reading them. Check out the ones on Grandma and Grandpa a few down on the list.