The spirit of liberty embraces all races in common brotherhood; it voices in all languages the same needs and aspirations. The full power of its expansive and progressive influence cannot be reached until wars cease, armies are disbanded, and international disputes are settled by lawful tribunals and the principles of justice. Then the people of every nation, secure from invasion and free from the burden and menace of great armaments, can calmly and dispassionately promote their own happiness and prosperity. The marvellous development and progress of this republic is due to the fact that in rigidly adhering to the advice of Washington for absolute neutrality and non-interference in the politics and policies of other governments we have avoided the necessity of depleting our industries to feed our armies, of taxing and impoverishing our resources to carry on war, and of limiting our liberties to concentrate power in our government. Our great civil strife, with all its expenditure of blood and treasure, was a terrible sacrifice for freedom. The results are so immeasurably great that by comparison the cost is insignificant. The development of Liberty was impossible while she was shackled to the slave. The divine thought which intrusted to the conquered the full measure of home rule and accorded to them an equal share of imperial power was the inspiration of God. With sublime trust it left to liberty the elevation of the freedmen to political rights and the conversion of the rebel to patriotic citizenship.
American liberty has been for a century a beacon-light for the nations. Under its teachings and by the force of its example, the Italians have expelled their petty and arbitrary princelings and united under a parliamentary government; the gloomy despotism of Spain has been dispelled by the representatives of the people and a free press; the great German race have demonstrated their power for empire and their ability to govern themselves. The Austrian monarch, who, when a hundred years ago Washington pleaded with him across the seas for the release of Lafayette from the dungeon of Olmutz, replied that “he had not the power,” because the safety of his throne and his pledges to his royal brethren of Europe compelled him to keep confined the one man who represented the enfranchisement of the people of every race and country, is to-day, in the person of his successor, rejoicing with his subjects in the limitations of a constitution which guarantees liberties, and a Congress which protects and enlarges them. Magna Charta, won at Runnymede for Englishmen, and developing into the principles of the Declaration of Independence with their descendants, has returned to the mother country to bear fruit in an open parliament, a free press, the loss of royal prerogative, and the passage of power from the classes to the masses.
The sentiment is sublime which moves the people of France and America, the blood of whose fathers, commingling upon the battle-fields of the Revolution, made possible this magnificent march of liberty and their own Republics, to commemorate the results of the past and typify the hopes of the future in this noble work of art. The descendants of Lafayette, Rochambeau, and De Grasse, who fought for us in our first struggle, and Laboulaye, Henri Martin, De Lesseps, and other grand and brilliant men, whose eloquent voices and powerful sympathies were with us in our last, conceived the idea, and it has received majestic form and expression through the genius of Bartholdi.
In all ages the achievements of man and his aspirations have been represented in symbols. Races have disappeared and no record remains of their rise or fall, but by their monuments we know their history. The huge monoliths of the Assyrians and the obelisks of the Egyptians tell their stories of forgotten civilizations, but the sole purpose of their erection was to glorify rulers and preserve the boasts of conquerors. They teach sad lessons of the vanity of ambition, the cruelty of arbitrary power, and the miseries of mankind. The Olympian Jupiter enthroned in the Parthenon expressed in ivory and gold the awful majesty of the Greek idea of the King of the gods; the bronze statue of Minerva on the Acropolis offered the protection of the patron Goddess of Athens to the mariners who steered their ships by her helmet and spear; and in the Colossus of Rhodes, famed as one of the wonders of the world, the Lord of the Sun welcomed the commerce of the East to the city of his worship. But they were all dwarfs in size and pigmies in spirit beside this mighty structure and its inspiring thought. Higher than the monument in Trafalgar Square, which commemorates the victories of Nelson on the sea; higher than the Column Vendome, which perpetuates the triumphs of Napoleon on the land; higher than the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, which exhibit the latest and grandest results of science, invention, and industrial progress, this Statue of Liberty rises toward the heavens to illustrate an idea which nerved the three hundred at Thermopylæ and armed the ten thousand at Marathon; which drove Tarquin from Rome and aimed the arrow of Tell; which charged with Cromwell and his Ironsides and accompanied Sidney to the block; which fired the farmer’s gun at Lexington and razed the Bastile in Paris; which inspired the charter in the cabin of the Mayflower and the Declaration of Independence from the Continental Congress.
It means that with the abolition of privileges to the few and the enfranchisement of the individual, the equality of all men before the law, and universal suffrage, the ballot secure from fraud and the voter from intimidation, the press free and education furnished by the State for all, liberty of worship and free speech; the right to rise, and equal opportunity for honor and fortune, the problems of labor and capital, of social regeneration and moral growth, of property and poverty, will work themselves out under the benign influences of enlightened law-making and law-abiding liberty, without the aid of kings and armies, or of anarchists and bombs.
Through the Obelisk, so strangely recalling to us of yesterday the past of twenty centuries, a forgotten monarch says, “I am the Great King, the Conqueror, the Chastiser of Nations,” and except as a monument of antiquity it conveys no meaning and touches no chord of human sympathy. But, for unnumbered centuries to come, as Liberty levels up the people to higher standards and a broader life, this statue will grow in the admiration and affections of mankind. When Franklin drew the lightning from the clouds, he little dreamed that in the evolution of science his discovery would illuminate the torch of Liberty for France and America. The rays from this beacon, lighting this gateway to the continent, will welcome the poor and the persecuted with the hope and promise of homes and citizenship. It will teach them that there is room and brotherhood for all who will support our institutions and aid in our development; but that those who come to disturb our peace and dethrone our laws are aliens and enemies forever.
Chauncey Mitchell Depew, his oration at the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, 28 October 1886