In April, 1885, the huge pedestal for the wonderful statue of Liberty, presented to us by the citizens of France, was started. That which Congress had ignored, and the philanthropists of America had neglected, the masses were doing by their modest subscription—a dollar from the men, ten cents from the children. All Europe wrapped in war cloud made the magnificence and splendour of our enlightened liberty greater than ever. It was time that the gates of the sea, the front door of America, should be made more attractive. Castle Garden was a gloomy corridor through which to arrive. I urged that the harbour fortresses should be terraced with flowers, fitting the approach to the forehead of this continent that Bartholdi was to illumine with his Coronet of Flame.
The Bartholdi statue, as we read and heard, and talked about it, became an inspired impulse to fine art in America. In the right hand of the statue was to be a torch; in the left hand, a scroll representing the law. What a fine conception of true liberty! It was my hope then that fifty years after the statue had been placed on its pedestal the foreign ships passing Bedloe’s Island, by that allegory, should ever understand that in this country it is liberty according to law. Life, as we should live it, is strong, according to our obedience of its statutes.
In my boyhood this was impressed upon me by association and example. When in May, 1885, Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, ex-Secretary of State, died, I was forcibly reminded of this fact. I grew up in a neighbourhood where the name of Frelinghuysen was a synonym for purity of character and integrity. There were Dominie Frelinghuysen, General John Frelinghuysen, Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen—and Frederick Frelinghuysen, the father of “Fred,” as he was always called in his home state. When I was a boy, “Fred” Frelinghuysen practised in the old Somerville Courthouse in New Jersey, and I used to crowd in and listen to his eloquence, and wonder how he could have composure enough to face so many people. He was the king of the New Jersey bar. Never once in his whole lifetime was his name associated with a moral disaster of any kind. Amid the pomp and temptations of Washington he remained a consistent Christian. All the Feloniousness were alike—grandfather, grandson, and uncle. On one side of the sea was the Prime Minister of England, Gladstone; on the other side was Secretary of State Frelinghuysen; two men whom I associate in mutual friendship and esteem.
Towards the end of June, 1885, we were tremendously excited. All one day long the cheek of New York was flushed with excitement over the arrival of the Bartholdi statue. Bunting and banners canopied the harbour, fluttered up and down the streets, while minute guns boomed, and bands of music paraded. We had miraculously escaped the national disgrace of not having a place to put it on when it arrived. It was a gift that meant European and American fraternity. The $100,000 contributed by the masses for the pedestal on Bedloe’s Island was an estimate of American gratitude and courtesy to France. The statue itself would stand for ages as the high-water mark of civilisation. From its top we expected to see the bright tinge of the dawn of universal peace.