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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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door! 

- Emma Lazarus

To Americans these words on the Statue of Liberty represent our identity as a nation of immigrants. To those who want to move to America, they represent a new opportunity.  But according to the National Park Service, the Statue of Liberty may not have been a symbol for immigrants at all, but instead was intended to symbolize freedom for American slaves following the US Civil War.  Spurred on by a report released on the Internet a few years ago, historians have been investigating the meaning of the Statue.

There is substantial evidence that the statue was intended as a monument to abolition.  A French historian originally proposed the idea for it in 1865, the year in which the Civil War ended.  The historian, Edouard de Laboulaye, was a leader of the French abolitionist movement.  The original model for the statue has a broken chain around her wrist – in the final version this became a broken shackle around her foot.

According to the theorists, the statue’s association with immigration arose because of the time in which it was finally erected in the New York Harbor.  By 1886, when its construction began, European immigration to the US had begun a dramatic rise, leading to a new vision of the statue.  The famous Emma Lazarus poem did not become part of the statue until 1903.

The National Park Service’s final report on the debate is due this summer.

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