Skip to comments.How the Left Gets the Statue of Liberty Poem Wrong - Greenfield
Posted on 08/22/2019 5:33:50 AM PDT by Louis Foxwell
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
Being a writer means never knowing what you might be remembered for. Or how badly.
That poem that Emma Lazarus became famous for was forgotten, remembered again, and has been misused, quoted out of context and transformed into a battle cry for open borders and a disastrous immigration policy. Its lines about wretched refuse and poor immigrants have been taken literally.
And yet the vocal advocates for the poem imprinted on the Statue of Liberty would have loathed the Confederate socialite and the Zionist writer who are responsible for the words they claim to love.
At the age of 34, Emma, a New York poetess with a bad case of writers block, was asked to submit a poem for a fundraiser to build a pedestal for a statue that most people hadnt seen yet.
That included Emma.
Her first response was to turn down the request. Though she didnt know it yet, her life was nearing its end. Five years after she wrote what would become her most famous poem, she would be dead.
But the request came from Constance Cary Harrison, a New York socialite, whose family story was a tapestry of American history, from John Randolph to Thomas Jefferson to Jefferson Davis. Her father was descended from Jefferson, her great-uncle's godparents had been George and Martha Washington, her grandfather had been the 9th Lord Fairfax and she had sewn one of the first Confederate flags.
Mark Twain had mockingly replied to her request with, What has liberty done for us? Nothing in particular that I know of. What have we done for her? Everything. Weve given her a home.
Harrison was a prolific author, both in her days as a Confederate activist, writing as Refugitta, and a New York grande dame, and she didnt accept rejections, either from Twain, or from Lazarus. As a teenager, she had lost her family home, her brothers, and her way of life. In many ways, she was also an exile.
And so, Harrison had encouraged Emma to think of the Jewish refugees she had been working with.
Twains sardonic comments had gotten at the problem with the Statue of Liberty. Its theme was Liberty Enlightening the World, but what did that mean? Did it mean that Americans were meant to export freedom to the world: a notion that would eventually drive American foreign policy in the 20th century?
That was the vision of some of the French activists involved with gifting the Statue of Liberty to America.
Emma Lazarus hadnt seen the giant woman who would become the Statue of Liberty, but the obvious reference point for a giant statue in a more classical age was the Colossus of Rhodes. Unlike the ancient Greek statue, the American colossus would match it size for size, but would be female. It would not stand to celebrate a military victory, but to welcome visitors, many of them immigrants, to New York.
By welcoming in people from foreign dictatorships, American liberty would enlighten the world. Not by invading and conquering other countries, but by allowing oppressed people to live freely in America.
The central image of The New Colossus welcoming immigrants though didnt come from Emma though, but from Harrison, the wife of the private secretary of Jefferson Davis, who as a teenager had lost most of her family, and had spied for the Confederacy in Washington D.C.
Think of that Goddess standing on her pedestal down yonder in the bay, and holding her torch out to those Russian refugees of yours you are so fond of visiting at Wards Island, Harrison had told her.
It was Emma Lazarus who dramatized it, harnessing the romantic vision, mingling classic Greek references with a modern American take into, A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
The woman embodied the contrast between America and Europe. The Statue of Liberty had been a message from France to America about our place in the world. Emmas poem, The New Colossus, continued the dialogue, with a response from America to Europe about our idea of liberty.
Emmas poem has since become a foundational text of the Left, but its origin was with a woman who had sewn one of the first Confederate flags and was first known for her writings for its cause. Harrison, like Lazarus, like the resulting poem though, was more complicated than fans of the poem might like.
Harrison had been as firm an opponent of slavery, as she was a partisan of the Confederacy.
Emma Lazarus was a Zionist, long before the term was common currency, and her preferred solution for Russian Jews wasnt emigration to America, but to Israel. The New Colossus was not a significant part of her lifes work. It was a favor for a friend. When the poem was read at the fundraiser, it wasnt by Emma, but by F. Hopkinson Smith, an engineer associated with the Statue of Liberty project.
The poem was written in two days, and made a splash at the time, but was then forgotten, only to be revived generations later when Americans needed a symbol to counteract Nazi Germany. Emma Lazarus would have been deeply disappointed had she known that she would only be remembered for a poem that she had written in two days for a friends fundraiser and wasnt even mentioned in her obituary.
Its revival has focused heavily not on its opening lines, but a few lines before its conclusion, 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. The most obvious error they make is to remove the context and read The New Colossus with the painfully literal-minded didacticism of the idiot.
When the poem speaks of wretched refuse, they ignore the ironic tone and assume that the ideal immigrant is wretched refuse. Since the poem speaks of poor immigrants, they insist that the United States is obligated to take in not just immigrants who are currently poor, but intend to stay that way.
They believe (often without reading it) that the poem speaks of Americas obligation to the world.
But the poem isnt an idealistic address to the world, but an ironic one to backward tyrannies. By cutting away the opening, Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp, the context and contrast between the storied pomp and wretched refuse is lost. Only yearning to breathe free still suggests that the poem is a dialogue between two different ways of life that is meant to demonstrate how liberty works.
America, The New Colossus is saying, was built by people who came here because they had no place in their old societies. Emmas message was not that America was an evil imperialistic nation obligated to take in every migrant to atone for its sins, but that it was a free nation built by people who had escaped the ancient lands with their storied pomp and thrived in a land where they could breathe free.
Its point was not that America was obligated to take in wretched refuse, but that the people who were considered wretched refuse by the ruling classes of Europe, had made America into a great nation. The "wretched refuse" is Europe's view of the waves of migration by English tenant farmers, Scotch and Irish laborers, German and Jewish refugees, Italian workers, and many others considered of no worth in their home ports. Because Europe considered its people "wretched refuse" and the other unflattering descriptors, its nations lacked the liberty that America had.
The Statue of Liberty had been a gift from France to America. But the French idea of liberty was different than the American one. The French had wanted to make a political point with the Statue of Liberty. Their liberty was an idealized figure enlightening the world. A secular goddess of political revolution.
Emma Lazarus instead humanized her into an American figure, a welcoming statue, not an ideal of political terror. Perversely, her poem has been embraced by the advocates of political revolution who see immigration as a means of transforming and overturning the United States of America.
That was the French vision, but it was not the American one. And it was not Emmas vision.
The New Colossus instead suggests that free societies succeed and tyrannies fail. Like Mark Twain, Emma Lazarus challenged the French presumptuousness of gifting America the Statue of Liberty.
America did not need the statue; it had the reality.
The French had meant for the Statue of Liberty to be a towering ideal, but The New Colossus is more of a sympathetic lighthouse, highlighting America as a place where Europeans can breathe free.
Her Statue of Liberty has no interest in the storied pomp of ancient lands. American liberty would not be an ideal, but a working reality. It couldnt be exported because what was truly required was for people to breathe free. To be able to live without compulsion and tyranny of one kind or another.
American superiority lay not in abstract ideals about liberty, but in the reality of breathing free. We might take in French immigrants, but we could not teach the French to be free. Only they could do that.
The advocates for open borders dont believe in people being able to breathe free. They take the part about wretched refuse seriously because they envision a world in which everyone is reduced to refuse. Likewise, they dont think of being poor as a temporary condition, but as a permanent one.
The New Colossus was an ironic dialogue between America and Europe. Its biggest fans today take the European side, ignore the irony, and want to use immigration to stamp out freedom in America.
Their new colossus of immigration is a conquering giant. It does not stand for liberty, but tyranny.
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That poem shouldn’t even be there. It’s a post-facto add-on by Communists.
This powerful insight into the real and true meaning of the Statue of Liberty and the poem emblazoned on its pedestal gives the lie to the border busters of the democrat party. We do not seek the world’s trash but its heroic men and women yearning to be free to build lives of consequence.
send the fugly thing back to France ...
Should a Poem on a 150 year old statue be the basis for our Modern Immigration Policy?
The true meaning of the poem is that the Communist movement in the US was already attacking the foundations of the nation well before the Cold War.
Immigration to the US wasn’t about the tired, poor and hungry. It was about the ambitious pioneering new lands, and about and those who were willing to abandon everything of the Old World in order to enjoy freedom.
The way the poem is written you’d think the US was created to be a soup kitchen for the world’s homeless.
If the Dems want that, we can give it to them, just get rid of all welfare. When the wretched refuse came here they either worked for it or died of starvation. Those who came to America did so knowing that there were no handouts.
Sorry, wrong thread. My sincere apologies.
An inconvenient little factoid. The Statue of Liberty was originally intended to be a gift to Egypt to place at the Suez Canal. The Egyptians didnt want it. IOW, it was regifted. How one ascribes any meaning to that statue after knowing this is just kind of pathetic.
They believe (often without reading it) that the poem speaks of Americas obligation to the world. But the poem isnt an idealistic address to the world, but an ironic one to backward tyrannies."
Once again, Daniel Greenfield gives us a whole new way of looking at things, and exposes the truth which has been obscured for years.
Thank you for the ping, Louis. Although I don’t always comment, I always read the articles.
Sometimes overlooked is a problem that is recognized in theoretical economics — the law of diminishing returns. Even if new arrivals were as productive as the native born, loved our founding fathers, and consumed no more welfare than the native born, you cannot indefinitely admit people to a land without decreasing the productivity and well- being of the people who are already there. The earlier new arrivals won’t care because they’ll still be better-off than they were in their old countries, but the ones who are already there will gradually begin to notice the difference — in the form of rising land prices, declining wages, clogged highways, crowded schools, etc.
I've long felt that there was far more to the excerpt quoted on the statue plaque than "open borders" fascism.
“Should a Poem on a 150 year old statue be the basis for our Modern Immigration Policy?”
Since the illiberal left wants to destroy even older institutions like the electoral college and documents like the Constitution it makes a certain sense for them to base policy on a poem they choose to misrepresent.
They treat the poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty the same way they treat In Flanders Fields. By refusing to recite the final part of Flanders they turn it into an anti-war poem when it is anything but.
“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”
So, liberals are lying once again; the poem was never a proclamation to destroy our country? I suspected that all - but it's nice to have facts backing up feelings.
White liberal elites (in a creepy way) love the poor - as pets - like they treat blacks - imagining they're protectors who keep them from being put back in chains... And for people to look down on -- like (being able to smell the people in Walmart)...
Epstein received 2 twelve year old sisters for a birthday gift - with the bonus they were so poor their parents wouldn't be able to protect them. He used them for rape - which is another reason white liberal 'elites' love broken homes, fatherless homes and 'the poor'... to abuse them.
Decades of liberal/progressive efforts to censor, erase and deny the underlying ideas of liberty upon which the U. S. Constitution was framed have had consequences.
Our Constitution embodied a UNIQUE IDEA. Nothing like it had ever been done before. The power of the idea was in the recognition that people's rights are granted directly by the Creator - not by the state - and that the people, then, and only then, grant rights to government. The concept is so simple, yet so very fundamental and far-reaching.
America's founders embraced a previously unheard-of political philosophy which held that people are "...endowed BY THEIR CREATOR with certain unalienable rights.." This was the statement of guiding principle for the new nation, and, as such, had to be translated into a concrete charter for government. The Constitution of The United States of America became that charter.
Other forms of government, past and present, rely on the state as the grantor of human rights. America's founders, however, believed that a government made up of imperfect people exercising power over other people should possess limited powers. Through their Constitution, they wished to "secure the blessings of liberty" for themselves and for posterity by limiting the powers of government. Through it, they delegated to government only those rights they wanted it to have, holding to themselves all powers not delegated by the Constitution. They even provided the means for controlling those powers they had granted to government.
This was the unique American idea. Many problems we face today result from a departure from this basic concept. Gradually, other "ideas" have influenced legislation which has reversed the roles and given government greater and greater power over individuals. Early generations of Americans pledged their lives to the cause of individual freedom and limited government and warned, over and over again, that eternal vigilance would be required to preserve that freedom for posterity.
Footnote: "Our Ageless Constitution," W. David Stedman & La Vaughn G. Lewis, Editors (Asheboro, NC, W. David Stedman Associates, 1987) Part III: ISBN 0-937047-01-5
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