Independence Day

Every American equates July 4th with Independence Day, our nation’s birthday, and a day Americans have celebrated since the eighteenth century. Spotlighting our nation’s birthday in celebration of America’s founding principles.

Celebrating Independence Day, 1776 to Today

The first celebration took place in Philadelphia, site of the Declaration of Independence (and home of the Jack Miller Center), in 1776, mere days after the Declaration was signed. The celebration continued each year in Philadelphia and soon spread around the new nation.

As we approach America’s 250th birthday, sometimes we forget that July 4th commemorates a world-historical moment in which a small group of men signed what became an immortal document: the Declaration of Independence.

These men signed a document that held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Truths. Equality. Rights. Life. Liberty. The pursuit.  We celebrate July 4th to honor these founding principles.

While our Founders risked their lives to forge these principles and create the nation that Americans enjoy today, their successors, too, relied upon these same founding principles to ensure that our nation “shall not perish from the earth.”

Delivering his Gettysburg address in the midst of a ferocious civil war, President Abraham Lincoln promised Americans a “new birth of freedom” by striving to realize our nation’s founding principles.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt convinced Americans that they would endure, revive, and prosper in the face of depression and world war, so long as they continued to pursue and realize our nation’s founding principles.

On July 4th, 1986, President Ronald Reagan reminded Americans of their duty to the “past of which we’re so proud, our hopes and aspirations for the future of the world and this much-loved country.”

The broadside of the Declaration of Independence from 1776. The text at the top reads: IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776. A DECLARATION BY THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GENERAL CONGRESS ASSEMBLED. This document is a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, marking the formal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain.

America’s founding principles have brought and will continue to bring our nation through many trying times. Our hopeful and tireless strivings to realize these principles act as the most precious gift we can give to this or any future generation of Americans.

At the Jack Miller Center, we are driven by these founding principles. We hope that you will support our mission to bring America’s founding principles to more young people across the nation.

In recognition of Independence Day, we put together a collection of resources, articles, and commentary by JMC fellows on the Declaration of Independence and the ways it has contributed to our nation’s political identity. We hope you enjoy it. And happy July 4th!

Elliott Drago serves as the JMC’s Resident Historian and Editorial Manager. He is a historian of American history and the author of Street Diplomacy: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom in Philadelphia, 1820-1850 (Johns-Hopkins University Press, 2022).