Who owns the Statue of Liberty? New York or New Jersey?
It should be straight forward, but the island upon which the statue stands, Liberty Island…
… has been part of a long fight between the states over their river border…
… and the islands between them, …
… with rounds in the 90s, the 80s, the 30s (the 1830s) and possibly more beyond 2000.
But to understand we must first go back to the 1600s.
New Netherland was minding her own business, when England using bigger-navy diplomacy made the Dutch colony hers.
Here the trouble begins, for England split New Netherland in twain, but not cleanly.
The mess wasn’t entirely England’s fault.
She was far away and maps in the 1600s, while they weren’t bad, they weren’t good either.
Thus, the charter splitting New Netherlands reads [*clears throat*]: …
“THIS INDENTURE made the four and twentieth day of June, in the sixteenth year of… [*mumbles*] …
…Whereas… by Letters under Patents of the Great Seal of England, bearing date on or about the twelfth day of…
… [duhduhduhduhduh… OK, OK], did… give and grant…
… all that tract of land… belonging to the westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island…
… and bounded on the east part by the main sea, and part by Hudson’s river…
… which said tract of land is hereafter to be called by the name… of…
… New Caeserea? Or New Jersey.”
Ugh, hoo-boy is this not an easy read. Paragraph breaks, England, you should try them.
This charter has uncertainty about the names of everything, wrong latitude and longitude numbers, and incomplete descriptions of the rivers.
It’s all a vague mess.
For example, is this part of the Hudson river, or not? The charter doesn’t say.
And “bounded on the east” but where?
And there’s another part about “several other islands” but, which islands exactly?
Like, say Ellis Island and Liberty Island?
England said, whatever, your problem now and left the young colonies to three hundred years of squabbling.
New Jersey said the Hudson flowed out to sea, and her border ran down the middle of the river,…
… like it does in every other colonial charter, and thus the islands Staten, Ellis, and Liberty were hers.
But New York, the Empire State, disagreed.
The Hudson river? Flows roundward then onward.
These islands? New York.
And also the river, the whole river, and the piers you’ve built into the river.
All New York. All belong to us.
New Jersey didn’t agree, but when borders are vague, bigger stick diplomacy rules.
And with the wealthy and powerful city of New Amster– er… New York at the heart of the conflict, …
… New York got what New York wanted.
When New Caeser– er… New Jersey asked: “Why don’t we split the river?”
New York asked: “Why don’t you make me?”
And also: “Where are my taxes from those piers?”
And also: “This island is a small pox quarantine now.”
And also: “Stop hitting yourself.”
By 1832, New Jersey had enough and called in the teacher, er… Supreme Court.
New York didn’t show up — saying the court had no authority to settle a disagreement between the states.
Which sounds crazy now but was kind of an unsettled question at the time.
Because America was having power struggles with unruly states then…
… and New York blowing off the Supreme Court wasn’t helping.
Worse: if the Supreme Court ruled New York must share her borders (which seemed likely) …
… New York would comply… whoops, NO, New York was going to tell the court to get bent.
America, trying to grow up to be a powerful federal goverment, did not want this.
So the Supreme Court decided to not take the case right now, maybe later …
… and then America used some political leverage to get New York to agree to settle the matter privately with New Jersey.
So the two states haggled:
New Jersey gave up her claims to Staten Island and in return…
… New York agreed New Jersey’s northern border extended into the river and down the middle…
… past Ellis Island, past Liberty Island…
… squeezing around Staten Island before going back out to sea.
Ah hah! So the Statue of Liberty is in New Jersey!
No, New Jersey also gave up Ellis Island and Liberty Island too.
Which seems like giving up a lot, but look, river access in the age of steam boats was a big deal.
And sacrificing a couple islands to get her piers back was worth it.
And America was happy because a power struggle between her and the states was averted.
And everything was going to be smooth sailing…
Uh, anyway, both islands are New York enclaves inside New Jersey’s border.
Which does make answering the question “Where is the Statue of Liberty?” …
… with “In New Jersey” technically correct in the most pointless kind of way.
Now in the midst of all this, America noticed Liberty Island’s rather strategic position…
… and she took it for herself as federal land and built a pretty star fortress upon it that could shoot in every direction.
Later when France sent America the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of their eternal friendship …
(A bond forged side-by-side in the heat of the young rebel’s battle for freedom from the Empire …
… a bond America would surely “hashtag” never forget.)
… America said: “I will put it right here where it will be the first thing everyone coming to the United States will see! BFFs, France! BFFs, forever.”
So the statue was put atop an old Federal Fort on Federal Land and, pow, made a National Monument.
So America owns the statue?
This opens a book titled “What is Federal Land, like what does it mean? for real though?”.
Which will be firmly closed as a story for another time otherwise we will never finish this.
It’s still only the 60s and we have yet to talk about the squabble over the land below the water… yesreally.
So back to Ellis Island for a moment.
Which, a hundred and fifty years after borders were supposedly settled, New Jersey claimed as hers again, partly.
See: in the 1800s the island was yay big, but by the 1990s, it was *yay* big.
And because the rivalries of youth never really end, New Jersey again brought in the Supreme Court.
This time New York showed up promptly.
The added land, New Jersey said, was hers.
New York disagreed saying the embiggened island was still her island.
Now, how did Ellis island get bigger?
Well New York claimed while digging up the subways she dumped the dirt, uh, here.
In New Jersey’s half of the river.
But her dirt=her new land, which is an interesting territorial acquisition strategy.
But neither New York nor New Jersey could find any paperwork for the court to prove where the land came from.
So how Ellis Island grew three sizes is just lost to history.
But whatever. The court ruled everything above the water was New York …
… and everything below the water was New Jersey.
But if below became above, New New Jersey it would be.
And thus this island belongs to New Jersey with just this little original part being New York.
Which is a sublime and ridiculous border that opens the door to one squabble remaining.
Liberty Island was originally yay but now it’s *yay*.
Which, means, this part should be New Jersey, not New York.
Though it hasn’t been fought over yet, (possibly because neither state has noticed)…
… and while it would still leave Lady Liberty on the New York side.…
… you know what would be on the New Jersey side? The Gift Shop.
And the only thing more important than who owns the monument…
… is who owns the gift shop for the monument. We will see.
But as it is, within the waters of New Jersey, there’s an island of New York …
… that’s federal land…atop which the national monument of the Statue of Liberty stands.
Oh, there’s also Shooter’s island. The State border runs… right through it.
I’m not sure anyone noticed.
Uhh… it’s a bird sanctuary run by New York, so whatever.