Dear Miss Liberty: A Letter To The Lady With The Lamp
A new book was published this past week. It is a book of letters. It seems that over the last three years as people from all over America have sent in their contributions for refurbishing the Statue of Liberty, many of them included little notes addressed to “Miss Liberty”. Some of the letters are humorous, some are deeply touching; but all are heartfelt expressions of gratitude for the freedom which is ours as Americans. Those letters have now been collected and edited into a book entitled Dear Miss Liberty: Letters to the Statue of Liberty. Today, in your hearing, I wish to add my own letter to that collection. I wish to write a letter to the Statue of Liberty…
I would begin the letter like this…
“Dear Miss Liberty, You are one hundred years old; you are 305 feet tall; you weigh 225 tons; your nose is 4½ feet long; your mouth is a yard wide; your skin is green; and you are beautiful! You are beautiful not just because of the splendid artistic proportions of your statuary, but more so because of the towering concept of freedom and liberty which you represent. Now we as a nation have renewed your beauty. Your worn spots have been restored. Your weak spots have been strengthened. Your broken spots have been repaired. Yet we know that it is not enough to simply restore your beauty, without restoring as well that for which you stand. Therefore, I write to you not only of my love for you, but also of my desire to join you in proclaiming liberty throughout the land.”
Beginning with that word of greeting, I think my letter would have three pages…
On Page One, I would write of Miss Liberty’s witness to the world.
I would want to acknowledge that most of us are not aware of the fact that the French in giving us the Statue of Liberty had an ulterior motive. In the 1880’s, Napoleon III was ruling France and there were those in France who were anxious to throw off his autocratic dominion. It was these people who conceived the idea of the statue. They wanted to build a statue personifying liberty and send it to that land which was most known for its love of liberty, the United States. Their idea was that Frenchmen beholding this Statue of Liberty in another land would rally about the cause of liberty in their own land. That is why the Statue was given on the condition that it was not to face toward America, but outward from America. And that is why the actual name of the statue is “Liberty Enlightening the World.”
But why is it that America has been known as the land that loves liberty? It is because of the faith of our fathers. The Bible says that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” And the Spirit of the Lord has been honored in our land. That is why when we look at Miss Liberty we see her holding a great stone tablet. It is not there by accident. Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the statue, placed the tablet there as a deliberate reminder of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Law of God. On the tablet which the statue holds is the date of July 4, 1776. What Bartholdi was trying to say in all of that is freedom and independence and liberty rest on a Biblical base. God’s will is that all people shall be free. Liberty is born out of the pages of the Bible. Freedom arises out of an act of faith.
A shocking story has recently come out of Rumania. Nicolai Ceaucescu is the dictator of Romania. He approached the United States about securing a greater variety of American goods for the Rumanian people. In the course of the negotiations our government pointed out that he did not allow the freedom of religion in Romania—the Bible could not be printed in the Romanian language. That was a violation of the Helsinki Agreement. So Ceaucescu said: “All right, send me some Bibles.” We sent more than 20,000 Rumanian Bibles. Once they arrived, they seemed to disappear. No one knew what happened. It wasn’t until several months ago that we learned the truth. Ceaucescu not only destroyed the Bibles we sent, but he then ordered his secret police to confiscate every Bible in Rumania. Now why does this man fear this Book? Why does he go to such lengths to keep it out of the hands of his people? It is because the Bible is the textbook of liberty, and it has been for 4000 years. It stood against Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar and Caesar and Louis XVI. And it will stand against Ceaucescu and Castro, against Gorbachev and Khomeini. It will stand against apartheid in South Africa and against oppression in Afghanistan. For this Book teaches that God made us and loves us and even dies for us. Nothing so upholds the worth and value of every living human being as does this Bible. Liberty finds its beginning here.
That is why I would note in my letter that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Law of God on those tablets, the Bible says that his face was shining. When Bartholdi built the Statue of Liberty, he had emanating from her crown seven rays of light. He was saying by that that Miss Liberty is alight with the same fire that burned in the countenance of Moses. It is the fire of Almighty God—the God who wills and desires the freedom of us all.
“That, Great Lady, is your witness to the world.”
Then on Page Two, I would write of her welcome to the world.
My letter would include the admission that welcoming others to our shores was not the original purpose of the Statue. That came later, and it happened like this. There was a poet named Emma Lazarus. She was a native-born American of Jewish descent. They were trying to raise money to pay for the pedestal on which the statue was to stand. The French gave the statue; America was to provide the pedestal. It was then that a number of prominent authors and poets were asked to submit manuscripts which would be auctioned off to raise the money. Longfellow, Mark Twain, Whittier, and Bret Harte all participated. Emma Lazarus submitted a poem for the occasion. It was written in November of 1883. She called it “The New Colossus.” She had never seen the Statue of Liberty. At that time it was lying in pieces in a warehouse in Paris. But her words added a new dimension of meaning to the statue. You remember the concluding lines of her poem:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Those words set us to thinking of Miss Liberty as welcoming the immigrants of this world.
That is why I would want to include in my letter a reminder that liberty is for us all. All have a part in it. None are to be excluded. There is to be equality of opportunity for all. Thomas Jefferson said that we ought to have a new revolution in America every 19 years or so so that everyone will have his or her opportunity to contribute to the treasure which is our national heritage.
I was interested to learn that the copper skin on Miss Liberty is only as thick as a 50-cent piece. That skin hangs on a great iron frame which was built by Gustave Eiffel, the man who built the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The skin was made so thin in order to provide a certain amount of give and elasticity. High winds blow in New York harbor and the statue is much larger than a great sail. Therefore, she must be able to bend in the wind. In fact, it is said that to stand in the torch on a gusty day is to feel the whole arm of the statue spring under you. Wouldn’t that be a thrill?
That is why I would note in my letter that America must always be an elastic nation. We are a melting pot. We are a polyglot people. We are an incredible mix of women and men. If we were rigid, we would break. But because we can stretch and expand and have room for all people, we can grow and strain toward the stars. America is home for all those who are homeless. America is opportunity for those who are poor. America is freedom for all those yearning to breathe free.
“That, Miss Liberty, is your welcome to the world.”
Now on Page Three, I would write of her worth to the world.
In the letter, I would have to confess that the statue almost didn’t get here. The French sent it. It came in 200 cases. But America didn’t seem to be interested, and certainly not interested enough to raise the money for the pedestal. Time passed. No money. Then a man named Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaper publisher, took up the cause. In his newspapers, he did three things. First, he set up campaigns in all the states which were part of the union at that time. Second, he launched severe criticisms of the rich and thus shamed them into giving. Third, and most important of all, he listed in his newspapers, the names of every person who contributed, more than 100,000 of them, no matter how much or how little they gave! The goal was reached. Now a hundred years later, people from all over America have contributed to refurbish the statue. Many of those contributions have come accompanied by letters, like the note from the grandmother who said: “Liberty must be paid for. Here’s mine.”
I would want to say in my letter to Miss Liberty that that reminded me of our Founding Fathers. They concluded the Declaration of Independence with these words: “To this we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” It was a pledge they kept. Many of them became fugitives. Some lost their wives, some lost their children, some lost their lives. There were four of them who possessed great wealth—all four died in poverty. Yet no one of them ever expressed regret for the decision which was theirs. They understood that liberty must always be paid for and they said: “Here’s mine.”
Paul was playing the same theme when he wrote: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Liberty can be lost. We talk a lot about the Bill of Rights—and we have no more priceless treasure—but I think we ought to have a Bill of Responsibilities. We celebrate our privileges as Americans, but we do not do the same for our duties as Americans.
That is why I would note in my letter that our greatest folly as Americans is to believe that liberty is a gift and it comes without cost. I am not so naive as to believe that both Americans and America are specially chosen of God. Yet I would have to be woefully ignorant of history not to understand that there is no other nation on the face of the earth like this one. But the liberty which is uniquely ours in America comes with a price—and that price must be paid by every man, woman and child who lives within these golden shores.
“Miss Liberty, you remind us that if we are to keep the freedom we so dearly love, we must be a nation of people who understand that freedom is not free. That, Miss Liberty, is your worth to the world.”
I would end the letter like this…
“Great Lady of Liberty, they say that now you’re good for another hundred years. I pray that your message a hundred years from now will be the same as it has been for these last one hundred years: liberty for all the world.
“I read not long ago of a man who took his little girl to see you in the New York harbor. The little girl was awed by your magnificent size and gentle beauty. She looked in wonder at your great arm holding up the torch. She listened attentively as her father told her that that torch was the symbol of freedom and liberty for all people everywhere, whatever the color, whatever their circumstance, whatever their language, whatever their background. That night the little girl was restless. She couldn’t sleep. Her father went to her room and said: ‘What’s the matter Princess?” She replied: ‘Daddy, I keep thinking about that lady with the lamp. Don’t you think somebody ought to help her hold it up?’
“My Dear Miss Liberty, I pledge myself to help you hold up that lamp until your message pierces the darkness of ignorance and oppression—until the day comes when Liberty enlightens the world.”
I would sign the letter this way…
I love you with my life,