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'We hold these truths to be self-evident ... '


Brush up on the Declaration of Independence


July 4th - The Menu with a BANG


America marks a declaration with celebration

July 4, 1999
Web posted at: 10:52 a.m. EDT (1452 GMT)

(CNN) -- The skies across America will light up Sunday evening with the pyrotechnics of annual Fourth of July celebrations, which mark the anniversary of America's 1776 Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

Americans everywhere will take to beaches and city parks, mountain peaks and river valleys, to celebrate the deeds of a group of separatists who waged an eight-year insurgency against what they saw as a tyrannical British government.

There will be parades and politicians, hot dogs and homemade ice cream. Republican candidates for president are stumping for votes in the important primary state of New Hampshire, while President Clinton and his family plan to take in the fireworks Sunday night in Washington, D.C.

Millions of Americans will carry on their own traditional rites, or perhaps start some new ones as the country punctuates its last birthday before the millennium.

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The city of Philadelphia -- birthplace of the United States -- celebrated by rounding up 112 Americans born on the Fourth of July for a "Photo of the Century" in front of Independence Hall, where the declaration was signed.

History lesson

Some of the celebrants may even be familiar with the history that brought this date to the forefront of American pride.

By the time the Continental Congress issued its declaration, American rebel fighters -- encouraged by the first Continental Congress convened in September 1774 -- had already been battling British troops.

Virginia statesman Patrick Henry's famed "Give me liberty or give me death" speech in March 1775 further stoked patriotic flames, until the hostilities between the colonial power and the upstart Americans broke out in gunfire a month later.

Courier Paul Revere's famous ride to warn the Patriots in Massachusetts that the British were coming to destroy stockpiled arms came on April 18, a day before Minutemen engaged Redcoats at Concord and Lexington -- the shots heard 'round the world.

Although the official signing -- by John Hancock and others -- didn't come until August 2, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. Americans, at least in Philadelphia, marked the first Independence Day four days later.

At the time, John Adams -- who would be George Washington's vice president and later, the fledgling country's second president -- is said to have predicted the future holiday.

"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival," he supposedly said. "It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.

"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 for evermore," Adams said.

'Is it the fourth?'

And so it has. Britain finally recognized American independence in September 1783, after a sound defeat at the hands of then-Gen. Washington's troops. And the American Congress declared July 4 a federal holiday in 1941.

A host of famed Americans share a birthday with their country -- 30th president Calvin Coolidge, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, advice columnists Abigail Van Buren and Ann Landers, journalist Geraldo Rivera, playwright Neil Simon and composer Stephen Foster among them.

Ironically, John Adams died on July 4, 1826 -- 50 years after the historic signing. And to add even more irony, he was joined in death the same day by the author of the declaration, Thomas Jefferson, who served as Adams' vice president and the young nation's third president.

Five years later, America's fifth president and a veteran of the War of Independence, James Monroe, died on that date.

Adams died unaware that Jefferson, too, was on his deathbed -- "Thomas Jefferson still survives" were his last words.

"Is it the fourth?" Jefferson asked before dying.

Yes, Tom, it is. Let the fireworks begin.

This report was written by CNN Interactive's KC Wildmoon.

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Philadelphia's LibertyNet
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  • Independence Hall Association
American Memory
  • Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention
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