U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Mother of Exiles

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!”

–Emma Lazarus, 1883

“Liberty Enlightening the World” Library of Congress (LC-DIG-pga-03455)

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Thanks for posting. I’ve been referencing this quite a bit in online conversations lately and have been disturbed by how many don’t share or even acknowledge this as a legitimate expression of American values.

  2. Well, some people are trying awfully hard to delegitimize this vision of what America has sometimes been, or ought to be, or somehow might yet become.

    But it’s right there, in letters plain, at the base of the Statue of Liberty: this is what America stands for.

    But the poem was written, the pedestal erected, after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act — also an expression of American values, then and, with some transposition, now.

    It’s always a contest, a battle, an agon, a struggle between competing values and sets of values. What kind of nation shall we be? (Some historians regard that question itself as an anachronism and a stumbling block, the root of all the problems in the first place. I’m not one of those people.) We must always contend for the country we want to become.

    In this contest, I’m on the side of the mighty woman with a torch. Always.

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