Photograph by Joe Mericer, Shutterstock
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Fireworks light up the sky in Washington, D.C.
Photograph by Joe Mericer, Shutterstock

Independence Day

Get the scoop on why we celebrate this summer holiday.

Hear that marching playing patriotic music? Smell those hot dogs cooking on the grill? See those fireworks exploding in the night sky? Then it must be Independence Day!

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The Declaration of Independence

Also called the Fourth of July, Independence Day marks the historic date in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. The written declaration stated that the American colonies were tired of being ruled by Great Britain. They wanted to become their own country.

A GROWING ANGER

Before the declaration, America was part of the Kingdom of Great Britain (now called the United Kingdom). In the 1600s, people came from Great Britain to settle in what is now North America. Between 1607 and 1732, the British founded 13 colonies: Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.

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The colonists (left) face the British during the Revolutionary War.

As these colonies grew, the people who lived there thought the British government treated them unfairly. For instance, they had to pay taxes on items such as tea and allow British soldiers to stay in their homes. The colonists had to follow these laws but couldn’t do anything to change them. The colonists rebelled. As a result, the Revolutionary War between the colonists and Great Britain began in 1775.

Fighting wasn’t enough though. The colonists decided they needed to declare their independence in writing to explain their reasons and gain support from other countries like France. On July 4, 1776, a small group of representatives from the colonies—called the Continental Congress—adopted the Declaration of Independence.

DECLARING INDEPENDENCE

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The Continental Congress signs the Declaration of Independence.

Written by a committee led by Thomas Jefferson, the document was signed by people from all 13 colonies. But the British government didn’t accept it. So the colonists continued to fight for independence until they finally defeated Great Britain in 1783.

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A bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson stands at a memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Declaration of Independence, now housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is recognized around the world as an important message of self-governance and human rights. The second sentence says it all: that all people are created equally and have rights that include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Fun fact: Jefferson, who would become the third U.S. president, wrote that sentence!)

Today the United States and Great Britain are friends. Most Americans still celebrate Independence Day, often with parades and fireworks. Historians think this is thanks to a letter written by John Adams, who helped write the declaration and would also go on to be the second U.S. president. In his letter to his wife, Abigail, Adams predicted that the colonists’ independence would be celebrated by future generations as an annual festival with parades and bonfires. It's no wonder that this holiday has turned out to be such a blast!

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