It's not the size. Not alone.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is four times taller. A standing Buddha in Japan is three times her height.

Are there statues more splendid? As art, Michelangelo's massive, magnificent "David" is justly revered. Daniel Chester French's monumental seated Lincoln has been thrilling, and humbling, Washington visitors for 80 years.

Those statues are more than statues.

Neither statue is this one.

Many years ago, on a visit to Morocco, I asked a young man in Marrakech who had given me a rather emotional briefing on local politics if there was anything I could send him from America.

"Are you changing planes in New York?" he asked. Yes, I replied.

"Send me," he said, "a postcard of the Statue of Liberty."

The Statue of Liberty.

If her name were "Linda, Queen of New York Harbor," she would still be something to behold, but she would not be what she is.

She would not be one of today's Seven Wonders of the World.

"Colossal statuary," her sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi said, "does not consist simply in making an enormous statue. It ought to produce an emotion in the breast of the spectator."

So it did, and so it does.

From an audio tape in the Ellis Island Immigration Museum comes this, words of a man recalling his arrival from Italy:

"When I saw the Statue of Liberty--it was something beautiful. I knew I was in America."

That hasn't changed in 116 years. But there were subtle changes in what she came to represent. Before she was a statue, and before there were thoughts of immigrant waves, she was Liberty. Just Liberty.

It all began in 1865, when French historian Edouard de Laboulaye--struggling with the fall of his country's Second Republic and the re-establishment of monarchy under Napoleon III--was dining with friends and reflecting on America, which had just ended a civil war fought in great measure to abolish slavery.

Why not, he proposed, build a monument celebrating the historic friendship between the two countries and at the same time create a monument to what again must be a common commitment to liberty and democratic ideals?

(The London Times would later think it amusing that the French, who had so little liberty, would give a statue to America, which had too much. But that was the point.)