On this day two-hundred and thirty-six years ago our nation was formed when a handful of courageous men came together in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to sign the greatest document of liberty ever penned in the history of the world – the Declaration of Independence. We who are Americans by birth or by choice have a gift of immense value that others from foreign lands still long for. It is the gift of freedom.
The Statue of Liberty, given to the United States as a gift from France in recognition of our joint friendship established during the Revolutionary War, has these memorable words engraved for all to see and consider, entitled, The New Colossus: “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land; here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. ‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she with silent lips. ‘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; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”
Though the Statue of Liberty was to have been built in time for the centennial celebration of the United States, the necessary monies at that time were in short supply in both nations. It was ultimately completed in 1886. Another interesting side-note is the story behind “The New Colossus,” a sonnet written by poet Emma Lazarus. When she was first approached with the idea of writing a special piece for the commemoration of the statue, she refused. A friend prodded her to reconsider at which point she penned the now famous poem. However, though written in 1883, it was not used in the ceremony in 1886. Emma Lazarus died in 1887, never knowing that her poem would resurface in 1902, whereupon it was selected to be cast in bronze and placed in the interior part of the foundation of the statue.
In addition, the Statue of Liberty was not intended to be a symbol of freedom for immigrants to America – but that’s what happened. This occurred in part due to Emma Lazarus’ poem, and because the United States had become that shining beacon on a hill. For some seventy years immigrants coming to America were greeted by the Lady located on Ellis Island, New York Harbor. In the poem, Lazarus mentions “the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.” The twin cities were, in 1883, New York City located on Manhattan Island, and the City of Brooklyn located at the extreme western end of Long Island. The two cities would eventually merge.
America has a rich heritage of people groups coming from all over the globe. This is significant because to be an American has nothing to do with a particular race of people, or an ethnic group, nor did it have to do with certain political, philosophical, or religious ways of thinking. Instead, it has everything to do with personal freedom. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses . . .” That’s the warp and woof of America. Oh sure, we’ve had our problems with immigration since the earliest days of our nation. But, we have always managed to work through those issues, ultimately extending the hand of friendship and the hope of freedom to all who hunger for such lofty ideals.
As we celebrate our nation’s birthday this Wednesday, let’s remember that we are a people blessed by God for having the privilege of living in the United States of America. Many times in her history there have been those ready to write her off. But not so fast! There are still those huddled masses who would be free and who long to come to our shores. And there are those who were born here who are rising up in large numbers to have their say in an effort to retain the freedoms and liberties we still enjoy, and not only for themselves, but for all who are “yearning to breathe free.”
Despite the challenges we face as a nation, both within our borders, whether it has to do with illegal immigration, or a declining economy; or outside of our borders, facing the challenges of foreign conflict and armed military intrusion, the United States of America is still the “land of the free, and the home of the brave.”
It is my fervent prayer that God will yet pour out his bountiful blessing on our nation, causing our hearts to turn back to him who has given this country of ours such abundance. We, of all people, should ever be giving him our thanks.
Take a moment today, as you spend time with friends and family, to personally thank God for America and the liberties and freedoms we enjoy. Happy Birthday, America!