LIFE magazine once offered some thoughts on the nature of Independence Day that might sound, to our modern ears, both quaint and—despite the dull, predictable snark that colors so much of contemporary culture—somehow still quite genuine:
The Fourth of July, although it originated in the hot spirit of defiance and the powder smell of revolution, is a quiet holiday. In the small cities the crowds gather beneath bunting and flags to watch their parades. In the picnic grounds the orators sweat and strain to produce three cheers for liberty. Yet everywhere . . . the crowds are in shirtsleeves and cotton dresses, relaxed, having a good, long, easy day, taking their liberty for granted, a a little embarrassed by all the fancy talk. In the cool of the evening many Americans will express their unselfconscious patriotism in the thought, “This has been a pleasant day and this is a pleasant land.” For in early July, on the nation’s birthday, the land is at its best.
Here, long after those words were written, and on the anniversary of the day the Statue of Liberty was dedicated (Oct. 28, 1886), here are photos of Lady Liberty as captured by LIFE photographers through the years.