From Royal to Republican, by Caroline Winterer

Teaching the Article
Exercise 3


The third exercise shows images of the goddess Liberty created in 1792, 1796, and 1886. There are many similarities: in each she is a young woman in classical drapery with some of the symbolic paraphernalia that mark her as a Liberty (a pole and cap, for example, symbols of the emancipated slave in ancient Rome). But pay particular attention to her differing surroundings and the clues they give us about whose liberty she represents.

In the first image, Liberty is showing a book to some freed slaves. In the second, inspired by a British design, she is crushing symbols of monarchy in front of a gloomy port while letting an American eagle drink from her cup. The final image is the Statue of Liberty, which sits facing Europe from New York Harbor, just next to Ellis Island, the principal port of entry for immigrants to the United States from 1892 to 1954. The classicized statue is rife with symbolism--her book, her crown, her torch, and even the chains she crushes were designed to carry allegorical meanings. Some of them are conveyed in the sonnet, the "The New Colossus," written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus and later affixed to the statue's pedestal. (The poem is available at Lazarus's poem situates the statue in space and time, disavowing its connections to classical antiquity (even as the statue itself achieves its majesty through classical motifs). The poem suggests that the Statue of Liberty is a beacon to what Lazarus calls a "golden door" of entry to a land where immigrants can "breathe free."

Students might compare the geographical placement of the Statue of Liberty and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis (from exercise 2), two monuments that invoke classical antiquity. At a port of entry to the United States stands a classical goddess; at a port of entry to the West stands a Roman triumphal arch. Both use the motifs of antiquity to suggest the possibilities of the future; both use images of gateways to frame the idea of peaceful conquest.


A. Samuel Jennings, Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences, 1792, engraving, Library Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa.

B. Edward Savage, Liberty, 1796, engraving, reproduced in Two Centuries of Prints in America, 1680-1880: A Selective Catalogue of the Winterthur Museum Collection, ed. E. McSherry Fowble (Charlottesville, 1987), 458.

C. Statue of Liberty, New York. Photograph by James S. Johnston, c.1894.