Episode 7 (formerly 1507): Declaration of Independence and Independence Day


Every summer Americans celebrate their country’s sovereignty on July 4th. Officially, it’s called Independence Day, but American citizens usually refer to it as the Fourth of July or July Fourth. I briefly touched on this subject in Episode 1501 of this podcast: Overview of the USA.

To know why July 4th is dedicated to America’s independence, you must understand some history. The Declaration of Independence is a document written by Thomas Jefferson with the help of other Founding Fathers in 1776. In it, they explained their decision to break from Great Britain and instead form the United States of America. Almost every American is familiar with the following sentence from the Declaration of Independence:

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.

This statement sums up the idea behind the USA, namely, that everyone has natural personal rights that no one should be able to take away. The Declaration of Independence resulted in a war with Great Britain, which the USA eventually won.

The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 members of the Continental Congress, a group of statesmen who had gathered to make decisions about the government of the 13 British colonies. John Hancock, the president of the Continental Congress at the time and governor of Massachusetts, wrote the largest signature on the Declaration of Independence. The story goes that he said he would write it large enough so that the King of England would not need his glasses to see it. This is the reason the American English idiom “to put your John Hancock on something” means to sign it.

The original signed copy of the Declaration of Independence is on display at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.

Every year since the creation of the Declaration of Independence there have been national celebrations commemorating its signing. In 1870, Congress declared July 4th to be a legal holiday. Today, Independence Day is a federal holiday, which means banks and government offices are closed and the employees get a paid day off. Many other offices are closed as well. However, most stores and restaurants are usually open for business.

These days Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with cookouts, or barbecues. Because it is summer, many outdoor parties and family reunions occur in backyards and parks across the USA on this day. Decorations include red, white and blue bunting and American flags. Even many desserts are red, white and blue, using strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream. In states where it is legal to possess fireworks, neighborhoods are alive with the sound of explosions and alight with multi-colored sparks and flashes.

On a larger scale, towns, cities and groups organize carnivals, fairs, baseball games, musical concerts, parties, art shows and other large-scale festivities. One of the most common celebrations is the Fourth of July parade. The parades usually have marching bands, local politicians, military soldiers and veterans, and people dressed as Uncle Sam, a character that personifies America. Of course, many politicians take the opportunity to give patriotic speeches on this day, from the president to the local mayor.

Among the patriotic music played by bands on Independence Day are military marches, especially those by John Philip Sousa, such as “The Stars and Stripes Forever”. Other songs include “Yankee Doodle”, “I’m Proud to Be An American”, “This Land is Your Land”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “America the Beautiful”, and, naturally, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem.

In most municipalities there is a public fireworks display after dark. Many larger cities have more than one fireworks display. One of the largest fireworks shows is held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The National Mall is a national park that includes several war memorials, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson, Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., memorials and a reflecting pool.

Ultimately, Independence Day is a day for American citizens to celebrate their country’s history and heritage. This is done with lighthearted parades, fun parties and outdoor entertainment, especially fireworks.

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