American Institutions #5 : The Statue of Liberty

War & Pieces – Liberty New York Style

In a single hundred year period, France declared war on England six times. Each and every time they lost, horribly. They lost their ships, most of their colonies, the odd general and their king’s head. On the plus side they ended up with liberty (being freed from the French), equality (with other French people) and fraternity (position vacant).

So it was then, with a view to filling the undersubscribed position of fraternity, French head-hunters stretched their necks towards New York, the some-time capital of the conquerors of the British. To show how much they valued their own freedom from oppression (from themselves), the French proposed to present the former colonists with a symbol of liberty on the 100 year anniversay of American independence. (As liberty has always needed something to stand on, the French first prevailed on the Americans to construct a suitable set of shoulders.) As further evidence of their seriousness of intent, the French then set about raising the money for the monument by means of “entertainment”, a prize fight and a lottery.

In 1886 the statue arrived in New York harbour, in 350 individual pieces, ten years late. Thus it was that as 4000 people looked on (the first reality show), liberty in the United States of America was assembled from a jigsaw of many parts, before being retired to it’s own island as a hollow tourist attraction.

[Tim Shreeve]

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