Americans will celebrate Independence Day on Sunday with a new Statue of Liberty — again sent by France to celebrate freedom and shared democratic values, at a time of warming transatlantic ties.
Just under 10 feet tall and nearly 1,000 pounds, the statue is being called the “little sister” to the much bigger one France shipped to New York in 1885. It will spend July 4 in New York Harbor, just across from the original on Liberty Island. It then will head to the French Embassy in Washington, for France’s Bastille Day, July 14, and will stay there for the next decade.
“It’s an iconic statue," said historian Olivier Faron. "And the statue could represent obviously freedom, but it’s also a very important point for the relationship between France and the States, from the end of the 19th century, when it was sent in the States.”
Faron is general administrator for the National Museum of Arts and Crafts in Paris, where the bronze reproduction was housed before its U.S. voyage.
Important for both countries
“I think now, when we are trying to escape the pandemic situation, when our countries have a new page of their history, with a new president — for us the new relationship between the States and Europe, I mean — it’s an important political significance for us, too,” he said.
The work of 19th-century French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the original Statue of Liberty was funded by France. American citizens paid for its pedestal. It reflects one of America’s oldest alliances, consolidated in 1778 with France’s support of America’s revolution against Britain.
“For us, it’s important to remember that some French politicians were very engaged to develop freedom, to help American people to be completely free,” Faron said.
Nicole Bacharan, a French political analyst specializing in the U.S., called the new statue "really cool. It’s something positive, it’s something happy, it’s something about values, about old friendships and old alliances that need to survive. And it’s a gift. It feels really good.”
The newest statue’s arrival in the U.S. comes after Joe Biden paid his first presidential visit to Europe, intended to shore up transatlantic ties that frayed under the Trump administration. The original Statue of Liberty — sent to the U.S. just after the end of its Civil War — also sought to strengthen diplomatic relations with Washington.
Symbol of slavery's end
The statues depict broken chains and shackles at the feet of Lady Liberty, symbolizing the end of slavery. Yet the legacy of slavery and European colonialism are hotly debated today, seen with the global Black Lives Matter movement.
Meanwhile, Bacharan said, Europeans question whether their warmer ties with Washington will last beyond the current U.S. administration.
“Everybody in Europe has been very pleased with Joe Biden’s attitude toward NATO and Europe overall," she said. "Everybody is acutely aware that American leadership may not be on solid ground at all. But it might just be a moment of pause. So, yes, welcome back, we’re happy to see you. We stick together, we know what we have in common … but we’re careful.”
The U.S. is not the Statue of Liberty’s only home. Dozens of replicas can be found in France and elsewhere in the world, including Kosovo, Ukraine and Mexico. There’s also one in Paris, given to France by U.S. citizens living here in 1889, to celebrate the French Revolution.