"Liberty Enlightening The World" was not the first "statue of liberty" conceived for the United States. A statue for the top of the national Capitol Building was part of architect Thomas U. Walter’s original design for a new cast-iron dome, which was authorized by Congress in 1855. Like Bartholdi's later, larger statue, the statue planned for the Capitol dome was intended to be a neoclassical representation of "Libertas."
The original drawings showed a 16-foot statue of a woman holding a Phrygian Cap on the long rod with which a slave would be symbolically touched during manumission ceremonies in ancient Rome. The Phrygian Cap, sometimes called a Liberty Cap, or a bonnet rouge for its color, was worn by former slaves in Classical times as a symbol of their emancipation. Sculptor Thomas Crawford of Mississippi was commissioned to create the statue of liberty.
Crawford felt that the original design lacked impact, and so he sculpted three maquettes, each representing "Libertas" somewhat differently. Each drew heavily on 19th Century depictions of "Columbia."
Although Senator Jefferson Davis (later President of the Confederacy), who was in charge of the Capitol Dome project in Congress, liked the designs, he, by all reports, "exploded in rage" when he saw that all designs incorporated the Phrygian Cap. Although Davis' assistant, Montgomery C. Meigs (later Quartermaster-General of the Union army) had initially approved the Phrygian Cap design, Davis wrote, "[The historical meaning of the Cap] renders it inappropriate to a people who were born free and should not be enslaved.” Privately, he cursed Crawford, a fellow Mississippian, for designing a "goddamned abolitionist statue."
The Phrygian Cap was removed. Instead, Crawford designed a crested version of a Roman helmet, “the crest of which is composed of an eagle’s head and a bold arrangement of feathers, suggested by the costume of our Indian tribes.” He also draped the figure, now named Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace, in an Indian blanket, brooched with a large "U.S." The Statue of Freedom (as it quickly became known) is holding a sheathed sword and a shield with thirteen stripes.
Crawford died in 1857, leaving only the plans for the approved model behind. The model was completed Italy in several parts, and was shipped to the United States after a long delay. The ship carrying the statue nearly sank during the crossing (oddly enough, the same thing happened to the ship carrying Bartholdi's statue almost thirty years later). The statue did not reach Washington D.C. until December 1859.
Bronze casting began in Maryland 1860, but the Civil War delayed completion of the casting and completion of the Dome both. Due to manpower needs caused by the war, the foundry foremen all joined the military (on both sides), and the statue was finalized by Philip Reid, who was, irony of ironies, a slave.
Late in 1863, construction of the dome was sufficiently advanced for the installation of the statue, which was hoisted by former slaves in sections and assembled atop the cast-iron pedestal. The final section, the figure's head and shoulders, was raised on December 2, 1863, to a salute of 35 guns.
The Statue of Freedom has graced the Capitol Dome since then, except for four months in 1993, when it was removed for extensive restoration. The figure stands atop a half-globe representing the Earth girded by the National Motto, "E Pluribus Unum ("From Many, One").
She stands 19 and one-half feet tall, and weighs 15,000 pounds. The top of her crested helmet is 288 feet above ground level.