Remarks on the Lighting of the Torch of the Statue of Liberty in New York, New York
While we applaud those immigrants who stand out, whose contributions are easily discerned, we know that America's heroes are also those whose names are remembered by only a few. Many of them passed through this harbor, went by this lady, looked up at her torch, which we light tonight in their honor.
They were the men and women who labored all their lives so that their children would be well fed, clothed, and educated, the families that went through great hardship yet kept their honor, their dignity, and their faith in God. They passed on to their children those values, values that define civilization and are the prerequisites of human progress. They worked in our factories, on ships and railroads, in stores, and on road construction crews. They were teachers, lumberjacks, seamstresses, and journalists. They came from every land.
What was it that tied these profoundly different people together? What was it that made them not a gathering of individuals, but a nation? That bond that held them together, as it holds us together tonight, that bond that has stood every test and travail, is found deep in our national consciousness: an abiding love of liberty. For love of liberty, our forebears—colonists, few in number and with little to defend themselves—fought a war for independence with what was then the world's most powerful empire. For love of liberty, those who came before us tamed a vast wilderness and braved hardships which, at times, were beyond the limits of human endurance. For love of liberty, a bloody and heart-wrenching civil war was fought. And for love of liberty, Americans championed and still champion, even in times of peril, the cause of human freedom in far-off lands.
"The God who gave us life," Thomas Jefferson once proclaimed, "gave us liberty at the same time." But like all of God's precious gifts, liberty must never be taken for granted. Tonight we thank God for the many blessings He has bestowed on our land; we affirm our faithfulness to His rule and to our own ideals; and we pledge to keep alive the dream that brought our forefathers and mothers to this brave new land.
On this theme the poet Emma Lazarus, moved by this unique symbol of the love of liberty, wrote a very special dedication 100 years ago. The last few lines are ones we know so well; set to the music of Irving Berlin, they take on tonight a special meaning.
[At this point, a choir sang the last few lines from the poem "The New Colossus."]
We are the keepers of the flame of liberty. We hold it high tonight for the world to see, a beacon of hope, a light unto the nations. And so with joy and celebration and with a prayer that this lamp shall never be extinguished, I ask that you all join me in this symbolic act of faith, this lighting of Miss Liberty's torch.
Note: The President spoke at 11:04 p.m. on Governors Island. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, he went to the Rockefeller estate in Pocantico Hills, NY, where he stayed overnight.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks on the Lighting of the Torch of the Statue of Liberty in New York, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/259200