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Discussions in France over a suitable gift to the United States to mark the Centennial of the American Declaration of Independence were headed by the politician and sympathetic writer of the history of the United States, Édouard René de Laboulaye. French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture with the year 1876 in mind for completion. The idea for the commemorative gift then grew out of the political turmoil which was shaking France at the time. The French Third Republic was still considered as a "temporary" arrangement by many, who wished a return to monarchism, or to some form of representation of republican virtues to a "sister" republic across the sea served as a focus for the republican cause against other politicians.
I know this is a pretty whacked out theory,