Why Do We Celebrate Independence Day?

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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.

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 theory 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.”

He mentions that although Independence Day is our national holiday and has huge historical significance, it should be one of celebration. “We shouldn’t be too serious about our holidays. Don’t feel like you have to go to a history class,” he says. “It’s a holiday that you should enjoy.”

Even when the Declaration of Independence was signed, John Adams believed it should be commemorated in a celebratory manner. He wrote to his wife Abigail, “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, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

So have all the fun you want this Independence Day, and show your patriotism by celebrating and watching “illuminations” … or fireworks!

Recommended Resources

National Treasure
From Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Benjamin Franklin Gates has been searching his whole life for a beyond imaginable treasure hidden by our nation’s founding fathers. He believes it should be preserved as artifacts, but greedy thieves seek to become rich from it. Gates soon discovers that he must find the treasure to protect it, and that means deciphering multiples clues outlined by a map that is on the back of the Declaration of Independence, which he must steal.

Celebrate Independence Day
By Deborah Heiligman and Matthew Dennis
This book from National Geographic discusses our national holiday’s history and most cherished traditions. It also explores other holidays around the world that celebrate independence.

The Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence
By Judith St. George and Will Hillenbrand
Follow the Declaration of Independence over the course of two centuries, through eight wars and through five states on “horseback, boat, railcar and tank” to where it is now, in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.