On July 2, 1887, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper marked the upcoming Fourth of July holiday with a cover illustration that graphically depicted the expansion of the United States. The serial was a popular weekly American publication of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Rare Books and Special Collections is pleased to highlight here a significant recent acquisition of the first 73 bound volumes from 1855 through 1891.
The image, titled “Independence Day—A Case of Vigorous Growth,” features a giant Uncle Sam wearing a top hat labeled “1887” standing astride the continental United States from New York to San Francisco. He extends his hand to greet a much smaller man standing on the Atlantic seaboard wearing a tri-corner hat labeled “1776.” “1887” Uncle Sam asks, “How are you, old man?”; and “1776” responds, “Bless my soul, boy, how you have grown!”
During the last half of the nineteenth century, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper catered to the reading interests of middle class Americans, and its content routinely reflected and depicted the conventional mainstream sensibilities of middle America. In 1888, Leslie’s claimed a robust weekly circulation of 45,000 and declared that its issues “reach[ed] the better class—those that have taste and the means to gratify it.”
The 1887 Fourth of July issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper followed up its striking cover image with a centerfold, titled “New York—Welcome to the Land of Freedom,” emphasizing the common contemporary belief that the growth of the United States had been fueled by the constant arrival of new Americans. The two-page spread shows immigrants huddled together on the deck of an ocean liner enthusiastically watching and pointing at the Statue of Liberty as the ship sails past.
The image references a short accompanying article, also titled “Welcome to the Land of Freedom” (p. 327). The text explains that the scene shows the arrival of the ocean steamer Germanic carrying immigrants from several European countries motivated, according to the the article, “by the belief that here they will escape the burdens and limitations which in the Old World abridge individual freedom and the exercise of rights which are felt to be inherent.”
“The first glimpse of this Land of Promise,” Frank Leslie’s elaborates, “must indeed be inspiriting and joyful … as they sail up our beautiful bay and for the first time see the majestic statue of Liberty, standing, so to speak, at the very gateway of the Republic.” The article concludes stirringly: “May all who sail past it to these hospitable shores find every just expectation realized, and prove in all things worthy of the citizenship which the land of freedom confers upon them.”