Thomas Bailey Aldrich
To contemporary audiences, Aldrich's poem reeks of nationalism and white supremacy, a chilling portrayal of the xenophobic strains weaving through our country's history. Textbooks and anthologies will have nothing to do with it, and Aldrich, who once ranked among the most respected poets in the country, is as forgotten as his "Unguarded Gates." Even in a 1965 biography of Aldrich, author Charles E. Samuels refuses to consider this particular poem, writing: "The less one says of it, the better" (Samuels, 59).
When it comes to examining various American interpretations of lady liberty, however, Aldrich's poem serves as an important reminder of the uglier sides of American patriotism that can come with symbolic monuments like the Statue of Liberty. When "Unguarded Gates" was published with a collection of Aldrich poems in 1895, the poem was so well received that it garnered typespace in the book's title: Unguarded Gates and Other Poems.
The second stanza of "Unguarded Gates" chants some of the strongest examples of Aldrich's white nationalism. "O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well/To leave the gates unguarded?" asks Aldrich, worrying that the "wild motley throng" of immigrants pressing through the New York Harbor will desecrate and "trample" upon the land he considers pure (ll. 31). "Strange tongues" and strange religions with "unknown gods and rites," Aldrich writes, are "Accents of menace alien to our air" (ll. 29).
In a letter to a friend in May 1892, Aldrich first announces "Unguarded Gates," explaining that it was instigated by his anger at recently having been robbed (Greenslet, 168). Labeling it as a "misanthropic poem... in which I mildly protest against America becoming a cesspool of Europe," Aldrich then goes on to lash out toward immigrants even more forcefully than within his poem:
These brutes are the spawn and natural result of the French Revolution; they don't want any government at all, they "want the earth" (like a man in a balloon) and chaos. My Americanism goes clean beyond yours. I believe in America for Americans. (Greenslet, 168)
Aldrich was not alone in his sentiments. As immigration laws--some worthy, others awful--tightened across
the country, the Statue of Liberty continued to be a vehicle for
expressing resentment or disappointment with the United States'
role as the "Mother of Exiles." The cartoon below, from the cover of Judge magazine in 1890, depicts a
frowning Liberty overcrowded with immigrants, an example of some
of the concerns of Americans regarding
the influx of new citizens.
Judge magazine, 1890 (Craig, 266)
Some cartoonists, taking an opposite stance, chose to call America on her hypocrisy in claiming to be a land of opportunity while denying admittance to the oppressed. The following cartoon uses the Statue of Liberty to poke at the U.S. Government for its exclusionist policies.
Dana Summers, The Orlando Sentinel, 1984 (Fischer, 79).
Continue to William A. Cox, "The Goddess of Freedom How Lofty She" (1927)
Return to Lady Liberty: The Changing Face of American Freedom