Fireworks are bursting outside my window. Whiz, pop, laughter. Any neighborhood sounds like that on July 4th. Unfortunately, when I ask the kids at the museum where I work what we celebrate on July 4th, they say "Firework Day!"

If only they knew...

I have always been intrigued with the question "Why?" I asked it all the time when I was small - why do we do this? Why is this the way it is? Why are we celebrating these things? Most of my teachers and professors could not answer those questions for me. My trigonometry teacher would get particularly frustrated with me when I asked him WHY do we use these rules in math and WHO invented them and HOW LONG have people been doing this stuff? I learned the answers to my questions in history class.

So often, parents are celebrating our rich heritage with only the traditions and not the meaning behind them. The fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas...all of these holidays are important culturally, but we often forget why we celebrate them in the first place.

The fourth has a particularly poignant meaning to me as I get to work with one of the most amazing documents in American history. On the second floor of the museum in our Founding of America exhibit, there's an amazingly beautiful copy of the Declaration of Independence. A copy doesn't sound too exciting, but this copy is old, stunning, and revealing. In 1843, this copy of the Declaration was printed off the copper plate made from the original. The intention was to put it in American history books as a supplement, but the books didn't sell. We are left with few copies of such clarity and beauty. This gorgeous document reveals some amazing things about the Declaration that most people do not realize...

1843 Copy of The Declaration of Independence at the Museum

Things like mistakes! Even the founding document of our country is imperfect.
Notice the word Representative was originally spelled wrong...they went back to fix it later!

They left out the word "only" here and added it later.

Even though we know Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration, his sloppy signature reveals he did not pen the document itself. We believe a famous calligrapher, Timothy Matlack, actually did the writing.
Funny, but we actually celebrate Independence Day two days late. We formally declared independence on July 2, 1776. John Adams wrote: July 2nd "the most memorable epocha in the history of America." Oops. We celebrate it on July 4 because Congress approved the Declaration itself on that day. While some signed on August 2nd, 1776, at the formal signing meeting, a few signatures were added much later. We believe the last signer, Thomas McKean, didn't sign until 1781.

I always tell kids on field trips how important this document is. I also make it clear to them that the fourth is not just about fireworks and barbecue. The 56 delegates who signed this document risked their lives for us - in fact, several of them had their homes ransacked and some were captured by the British.

Encourage your family to celebrate our Independence for the right reasons - to commemorate those who lost their lives making our country independent, to remind ourselves of our uncertain beginnings, and to reiterate the fact that freedom always comes with a price.

Enjoy Independence Day and remember America's fight to be free.



  1. Jill, I learned a few new things while reading this post. I'm so glad to remember the history behind the holiday. :) Hope all is well with you.


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