Between which two states was there a dispute regarding the ownership of the Statue of Liberty?

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By Kristy Tolley

The Statue of Liberty’s disputed ownership

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States and a symbol of freedom and democracy around the world. However, few people know that the statue’s ownership was once the subject of a bitter dispute between two states. The disagreement centered on the location of the statue and the question of which state had the right to claim it as its own. This article will explore the history of the dispute, the legal battle that ensued, and the resolution that eventually settled the matter.

The history of the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people to the United States, commemorating the centennial of American independence in 1876. The statue was designed by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, with the intention of creating a symbol of freedom and democracy that would inspire people around the world. The statue was shipped to the United States in pieces and assembled on a pedestal on Bedloe’s Island (later renamed Liberty Island) in New York Harbor.

The dispute over the location of the statue

The statue’s placement on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor was the source of the dispute between New York and New Jersey. New York claimed that the island was part of its territory, while New Jersey argued that the island was in fact located on its side of the state line. The disagreement stemmed from the fact that the boundary between New York and New Jersey in the harbor was not clearly defined, leading to confusion over the ownership of various islands and waterways in the area.

The initial agreement between New York and New Jersey

In 1834, New York and New Jersey signed an agreement dividing jurisdiction over the waters of the harbor between the two states. However, the agreement did not specify the location of the boundary line, and over time, the two states developed different interpretations of where the line should be drawn. In 1876, when the statue was being assembled on Bedloe’s Island, New Jersey filed a formal protest claiming that the island was within its territory.

The question of jurisdiction over the waters

The dispute over the ownership of the statue was complicated by the fact that it was located on an island in the harbor, which raised the question of which state had jurisdiction over the surrounding waters. New York argued that it controlled the waters around the island, while New Jersey claimed that it had equal rights to those waters. The disagreement came to a head when New York attempted to assert exclusive control over the waters around Bedloe’s Island by placing a quarantine station there.

The dispute over the ownership of the statue escalated into a legal battle that lasted for several years. New York filed a lawsuit against New Jersey in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that it was the rightful owner of Bedloe’s Island and the surrounding waters. New Jersey countered by claiming that the boundary between the two states should be drawn further west, placing the island and the statue within its jurisdiction.

The resolution of the dispute

In 1834, the U.S. Supreme Court finally settled the dispute by ruling in favor of New York. The court held that Bedloe’s Island was an artificial structure built on submerged land that belonged to New York, and that the state had exclusive jurisdiction over the waters around the island. The ruling was a major victory for New York, which was able to claim ownership of the statue and maintain its control over the harbor.

The role of the federal government in the dispute

Throughout the dispute, the federal government played a key role in attempting to mediate between the two states. The U.S. Department of State was involved in negotiating the original agreement between New York and New Jersey in 1834, and later became involved in the legal battle over the ownership of the statue. However, ultimately it was left to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the matter.

The impact of the dispute on the statue’s symbolism

The dispute over the ownership of the Statue of Liberty had little impact on its symbolism, as it remained a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy regardless of which state claimed ownership. However, the controversy did highlight the challenges of defining territorial boundaries in areas with complex waterways and islands, and the need for clear legal frameworks to resolve disputes between states.

The legacy of the New York-New Jersey dispute

The New York-New Jersey dispute over the ownership of the Statue of Liberty has been largely forgotten, but it serves as a reminder of the challenges that can arise when attempting to define territorial boundaries in complex environments. The dispute also highlighted the importance of clear legal frameworks and the need for cooperation between states to resolve disputes peacefully.

Conclusion: The enduring significance of the Statue of Liberty

Despite the dispute over its ownership, the Statue of Liberty has remained a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy that has inspired people around the world for over a century. Today, the statue stands as a testament to the enduring values of the United States, and a reminder of the importance of freedom and democracy in a rapidly changing world.

References: Sources consulted for this article

  • "The Statue of Liberty and New York-New Jersey Jurisdictional Dispute," U.S. National Park Service, .
  • "The Ownership of the Statue of Liberty," The New York Times, November 15, 1985, .
  • "The Statue of Liberty’s Disputed Origin Story," Smithsonian Magazine, July 3, 2018,
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Kristy Tolley

Kristy Tolley, an accomplished editor at TravelAsker, boasts a rich background in travel content creation. Before TravelAsker, she led editorial efforts at Red Ventures Puerto Rico, shaping content for Platea English. Kristy's extensive two-decade career spans writing and editing travel topics, from destinations to road trips. Her passion for travel and storytelling inspire readers to embark on their own journeys.

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