Remember the real reasons we celebrate Independence Day

Celebrating the Fourth of July is one of the best parts about summer. You get to barbecue with your family, watch fireworks, go to a parade—take part in all the fun summer activities.

But another reason why July 4th is so special is because it’s Independence Day, a holiday celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1776, founding father and soon-to-be president, Thomas Jefferson wrote what is now the United States’ most famous and cherished document to give a list of grievances against King George III of England. It was written to justify the colonies breaking away from the mother country and becoming an independent nation.

Revised by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, the Declaration of Independence was signed by our founding fathers and accepted by Congress on July 4,1776.

Our American forefathers successfully worked through strife, fears, and the bullies of their time to prevail in establishing this great country. We, as recipients and inheritors of their magnificent efforts, must hold our heads up high as we express our thanks and jubilation on the 4th of July. Independence Day holiday celebrations that we live in such a great country, and we should be encouraged to work together, hand in hand, to resolve our problems and differences in order to maintain the integrity and values that the great and famous document, the Declaration of Independence was founded upon.

There is an important lessons here that we, too, can resolve all of our differences, and as we enjoy celebrating the 4th of July Independence Day holiday with the magnificent fireworks, tasty barbecues, traditional hot dogs, fun parades and other symbolic events that mark the freedom and birth of our great country, we share a common goal and belief that all people are created equal and that this country is founded on the belief of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

But the spirit of Independence Day is not only about the United States officially becoming a country. It’s about celebrating the values that the country was founded upon. The Declaration of Independence was written with the belief that every person has inherent rights, called “self-evident truths” in the official document. It reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Harry Rubenstein, a curator of American politics at the Smithsonian Institution, says that Independence Day celebrates those very ideals of democracy, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and is for anyone who finds faith in the words “all men are created equal.” But he says it is also a holiday to remember and honor those first Americans who made sacrifices to create the Republic and then defend it over the years.

Rubenstein says that it’s also important to remember that as Americans, we should continue to embody the values our country was built on. “These are principles that you achieve and not just state,” he says. “[Our country] is a work in progress.”

Here are some fun facts about Independence Day:

1. July 4th is Independence Day or also known as America’s birthday in the United States.

2. We celebrate the 4th of July because it represents the day that America became separate from British rule.

3. Under British rule the Colonists were unhappy with British government.  They felt they were unfairly taxed and had no vote on the laws that affected them.

4. The colonists decided to write a document announcing they were no longer part of the British government and they were going to be a new nation called the United States of America.

5. This document is known as the Declaration of Independence.

6. On July 4th 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed giving the United States independence from Great Britain.

7. The first person to sign the Declaration of Independence was John Hancock.

8. The Declaration of Independence was written on July 2nd 1776.

9. Thomas Jefferson is credited for writing the Declaration of Independence. However the Committee of Five (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston) were all involved with the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.

10. The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men representing the 13 colonies.

11. The 13 colonies were: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

12. The Declaration of Independence was written during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

13. Did you know that when the United States gained independence the population of the country was around 2.5 million.  Today the population is around 304 million.

14. The first event celebrating the 4th of July at the Whitehouse was in 1801.

15. Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national animal of the US but he was out voted and the bald eagle became the national animal.

So why do we celebrate the 4th of July with parades, fireworks and BBQ?  Many believe that if has to do with a letter John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 2nd 1776 about America’s Independence.  In the letter he wrote ” The day will be most memorable in the history of America.  I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, bonfire and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward and forever more.”

Although Adams was wrong about the day (two days later on July 4 the Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence), he was right about the celebrations, at least through much of our history. For us today July Fourth is still an important holiday, and we can be thankful that no one is suggesting that we move it the closest Monday. Yet the day no longer seems to have the solemnity and significance that Adams hoped it would have. To be sure, we have lots of parades, games, and fireworks, but much of the meaning of these festivities seems to have slipped away from us.

This is too bad, for July Fourth, 1776, is not only the most important day in American history, but because the United States has emerged as the most powerful nation the world has ever known, it is surely one of the most important days in world history as well.

The Declaration legally created the United States of America. It announced to a “candid world” that Americans were assuming “among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them.” But it did much more than that. It stated all governments everywhere were supposed to derive “their just powers from the consent of the people,” and that when any one of these governments became destructive of the people’s rights and liberties, the people could alter or abolish that government and institute a new one.

These words have served as inspiration for peoples everywhere. Colonial rebellions against imperial regimes throughout the world have looked to the Declaration to justify their cause. In declaring Vietnam independent from France in 1945, Ho Chi Minh cited the American Declaration of Independence. Members of Solidarity in Poland and dissidents in Czechoslovakia invoked its words to oppose Soviet domination in the 1980s. And the Chinese students who occupied Tiananmen Square in 1989 used its language. And maybe there are some participants in the Arab Spring who are aware of our Declaration of Independence. It certainly has become one of the most influential documents in world history.

But for Americans the Declaration has a special significance. It infused into our culture most of what we have come to believe and value. Our noblest ideals and highest aspirations—our beliefs in liberty, equality, and individual rights, including the right of every person to pursue happiness—came out of the Declaration of Independence. Consequently, it is not surprising that every reform movement in American history—from the abolitionists of the 1830s, to the feminists at Seneca Falls in 1848, to the civil rights advocates of the 1960s—invoked the words and ideals of the Declaration.

It was Abraham Lincoln who made the most of the Declaration, particularly its assertions of human equality and inalienable rights. Thomas Jefferson, the principal drafter of the Declaration, said Lincoln, “had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and stumbling block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”

A century later, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. took inspiration from this abstract truth embodied in the Declaration.

For us Americans, the words of the Declaration have become central to our sense of nationhood. Because the United States is composed of so many immigrants and so many different races and ethnicities, we can never assume our identity as a matter of course. The nation has had to be invented.

At the end of the Declaration, the members of the Continental Congress could only “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” There was nothing else but themselves that they could dedicate themselves to—no patria, no fatherland, no nation as yet. In comparison with the United States, many states in the world today are new, some of them created within fairly recent past. Yet many of these states, new as they may be, are under-girded by peoples who had a pre-existing sense of their ethnicity, their nationality. In the case of the United States, the process was reversed: We Americans were a state before we were a nation, and much of our history has been an effort to define that nationality.

In fact, even today America is not a nation in any traditional meaning of the term. We Americans have had to rely on ideas and ideals in order to hold ourselves together and think of ourselves as a single people. And more than any other single document in American history, the Declaration has embodied these ideas and ideals. Since it is our most sacred text, the day, July 4, 1776, that gave birth to it ought to be understood with all the significance and solemnity that John Adams gave to it.

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