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Wretched Refuse, Indeed

by Kevin D. Williamson

About that poem . . .

Strange women standing in harbors distributing poetry is no basis for a system of government. But if we were going to base our public policy on a poem, we ought to choose a better one than “The New Colossus.”

Emma Lazarus was a New York City socialite during an era in which it was fashionable for such women to pretend to be following literary careers. She studied languages (German, French, and Italian), toured Europe, met figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Morris, and, to her credit, produced a fair amount of work: poems, plays, translations. She also adopted social causes: She was a Zionist before the term even existed, an advocate for Jewish immigrants, and a “Georgist,” a follower of the eccentric political economist Henry George, whose proposal for a single tax on the value of land was popular in progressive and radical circles.

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