Replica Statue of Liberty reflects the ideals of her famous big sister

A 3-meter bronze replica of New York’s Statue of Liberty reached Washington this year, underscoring the friendship between France and the United States and symbolizing the same ideals associated with the replica’s famous big sister on Liberty Island in New York.

The statue, on loan from France’s National Conservatory of Arts and Trades, spent five days on Ellis Island — just across the way from the original statue, which is roughly 30 times bigger.

Next, the replica — produced from the same 1878 plaster model Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi used to create the famous Lady Liberty — made its way south to Washington, in time for the French Bastille Day holiday July 14. There, workers installed it inside the garden in front of the French ambassador’s residence. The replica statue, whose formal name is Liberty That Lights the World, will stay there, visible to passersby, for 10 years.

“Our revolutions were over a dozen years apart, but the trajectories of our experiments in self-government — and their shared foundation in freedom and in human rights — they’ve always been intertwined,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said during the statue’s Washington unveiling. “Throughout our history, in many ways we’ve been mirrors to one another, holding up not only our greatest achievements but also our greatest flaws.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, second from left, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, third from left, look at the replica Lady Liberty statue at the French ambassador’s Washington residence. (© Carolyn Kaster/AP Images)

A 19th-century idea

In 1865, Édouard de Laboulaye — a French political thinker, U.S. Constitution expert and abolitionist — proposed the idea of building a statue that French citizens could give to the United States. When President Grover Cleveland dedicated the 46-meter copper and steel Statue of Liberty in 1886, it symbolized democratic and Enlightenment ideals, and it celebrated the Union Army’s Civil War victory over the South. (The original and replica statues have broken chains on their feet, “which embody the abolitionist movement,” said Pascal Confavreux, a French Embassy spokesman.)

At the time, de Laboulaye saw U.S. abolitionists not only as a moral force, but also as a movement that might make the case for French democracy.

The statue’s modern meaning

Because of the Statue of Liberty’s proximity to Ellis Island, the New York Harbor processing center for millions of immigrants between 1892 and 1954, many Americans today associate it with the “American dream” of newcomers.

It continues to symbolize the American-French alliance also. The two countries are banded together in their efforts to boost democracies, fight economic coercion and inequality, tackle the coronavirus pandemic, slow climate change and advance human rights around the world.

“This battle to give liberty the concrete meaning which only democratic institutions and the rule of law can give it is not a battle of the past,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking in French, during the replica statue’s unveiling ceremony.