There are many ways to mark the founding of our nation.
As America gears up for what is arguably the second biggest secular holiday of the year, the Fourth of July – with Thanksgiving being No. 1 – it’s a good time to reflect on the reasons we watch fireworks and gather for family barbecues. One way to do that is to read the actual document that set this nation in motion, the Declaration of Independence.
Another way to learn about the freedom we often take for granted is to talk to a veteran or current member of our armed forces.
These men and women are on the front lines in the battles to preserve our liberty, night and day, at home and in foreign lands. And while you are at it, tell them thank you for their service.
Talk to your children about the fascinating history of the United States of America. Encourage them to read – yes, read – books to supplement what they learn in school.
There are new books published every year delving into countless eras, personalities, events and philosophies that have shaped this nation.
And then there is the age-old way Americans handle just about every topic – they talk about it.
So, to get the conversations started, here are some talking points you may or may not have known about our nation.
The word patriotism comes from the Latin patria, which means homeland or fatherland.
The first public Fourth of July event at the White House occurred in 1804.
The first Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi occurred at Independence Creek and was celebrated by Lewis and Clark in 1805.
In 1778, while George Washington celebrated the Fourth of July with his troops in Princeton, N.
J., Benjamin Franklin was in Paris, throwing a party for expatriated Americans and French elites.
In May 1776, after nearly a year of trying to resolve their differences with England, the colonies sent delegates to the Second Continental Congress. Finally, in June, admitting their efforts were hopeless, a committee was formed to compose the formal Declaration of Independence. Headed by Thomas Jefferson, the committee also included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Philip Livingston and Roger Sherman. On June 28, 1776, Thomas Jefferson presented the first draft of the declaration to Congress.
None of the 56 eventual signers of the Declaration of Independence did so July 4, 1776. Neither did they all do so at the same time. In fact, 50 of the signatories did so at an official event Aug. 2, 1776.
Thomas McKean was the last to sign in January 1777.
The names of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were withheld from the public for more than six months to protect the signers. If independence had not been achieved, the treasonable act of the signers would have, by law, resulted in their deaths.
Independence Day was first celebrated in Philadelphia July 8, 1776.
The Liberty Bell sounded from the tower of Independence Hall July 8, 1776, summoning citizens to gather for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence by Col. John Nixon.
Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter June 24, 1826, declining an invitation to come to Washington, D. C., to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was the last letter that Jefferson, who was gravely ill, ever wrote.
Two longtime political rivals, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both died on Independence Day, July 4, 1826.
Before cars congested America’s highways and byways, the Fourth of July was traditionally the most miserable day of the year for horses, tormented by all the noise and by the boys and girls who threw firecrackers at them. Some things, it seems, never change.
According to The American Pyrotechnics Association (APA), an estimated 14, 000 fireworks displays entertain Americans each Fourth of July. The APA also reports that fireworks are more popular than ever, and that backyard fireworks more than doubled between 2000 (102 million pounds/ 46 million kilograms sold annually) and 2007 (238 million pounds/ 108 million kilograms) – reaching annual revenues of $930 million in that year.
Fireworks were first authorized by Congress for the Fourth of July in 1777. Nineteenth-century Independence Days featured noisy artillery salutes, as explosives left over from various wars were fired all day during the Fourth of July. The practice faded as cannons aged and fell into disrepair.
Americans have celebrated the Fourth of July ever since, though it was not declared a federal holiday until 1941.