8/6/12 - the mother of exiles

In today's excerpt - by 1868, the United States had already become the world's largest economy, and by 1914 -- the dawn of World War I -- the US economy was larger than the economies of Britain, France, and Germany combined. With such extraordinary growth, the US required enormous new resources -- especially labor. To fill that need, immigrants came pouring into the US from around the world, turning America into a nation of immigrants. Greeting many of these immigrants was the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus's immortal phrase, "give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free":

"In 1867-1868, the United States surpassed Britain in gross domestic prod­uct (GDP), becoming the world's largest economy. The growth of the size of the American economy was driven by a combination of productiv­ity growth with a rapid increase in population, driven by mass immigra­tion from Europe between the 1840s and World War I.

"The US population increased from forty million in 1870 to seventy-six million in 1900. Two-thirds of the growth was the result of natural increase, one-third the result of immigration.

"Of the seventy-six million Americans in 1900, a third were either for­eign born or the children of foreign-born parents. In 1910, the foreign-born and their first-generation children accounted for more than 70 per­cent of the population in New York, Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, and Detroit.

"The Statue of Liberty was unveiled at a ceremony attended by Presi­dent Grover Cleveland on October 28, 1886. The New York Herald de­scribed the scene: 'Amid the uproar and excitement that succeeded the consecration of the statue, there glided through the Narrows a huge steamship crowded with European immigrants. From her decks the eyes of the strangers were fixed upon the wonderful drama in progress before them. The cannon smoke and vapor rolled up, and ringed in a huge, fire-fringed semicircle, they saw before them the mighty figure of Liberty. Imagination can only conceive of what to their tired eyes, weary with the hardships, the hopelessness and the cruelties of the Old World, this ap­parition must have conveyed.'

"Although the purpose of the Statue of Liberty was to commemorate the French-American alliance during the American Revolution, it be­came an inspiring symbol to the millions of immigrants who passed it be­fore arriving to be processed for entry to the United States at Ellis Island. The link between the statue and immigration was reinforced by 'The New Colossus,' the 1883 poem by Emma Lazarus engraved into the base:

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!'


Michael Lind


Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States


HarperCollins Publishers


Copyright 2012 by Michael Lind


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