Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. July Fourth is America's birthday. This year is the two hundred thirtieth anniversary of independence.
Thousands of people are expected to celebrate Independence Day at Mount Vernon, Virginia, the home of George Washington.
As a general, he led an army of colonists against British rule. Later George Washington became the first president of the United States. He helped the nation grow during its very early, very difficult days.
July Fourth celebrations take place each year at Mount Vernon. But organizers at the home of the man they call the first American hero say this year is special. There will be an expanded military presence – eighteenth century military, that is. Members of groups including the Fifes and Drums of Prince William the Third will perform.
Visitors will listen to eighteenth century and modern music as they eat birthday cake to celebrate the Fourth of July. And the George Washington Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution will lead a procession. It will end at George Washington’s burial marker.
There will be actors dressed as George and Martha Washington. And visitors will hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Holiday observances also take place at Monticello, the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson. Like Washington, Jefferson was a hero of America's earliest days. He wrote the Declaration of Independence. And he became the third president of the United States.
At Monticello a naturalization ceremony will be held to swear in new American citizens. This Independence Day event has been a yearly tradition since nineteen sixty-three.
Almost three thousand people have been sworn in as citizens at the Fourth of July ceremonies at Monticello.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence after war began between the American colonies and their British rulers. King George the Third of England taxed the colonies, but they could not elect members to Parliament. Taxation without representation angered the colonists. So did other British laws for the colonies.
In seventeen seventy-five, the first Americans died in battle against British troops. Some colonists remained loyal to England. But others were in full rebellion.
Among them was Richard Henry Lee. Lee represented Virginia in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. On June seventh, seventeen seventy-six, he proposed a resolution. The resolution said Congress should declare America free of British rule.
A committee was named to prepare the document. Thomas Jefferson wrote it between June eleventh and June twenty-eighth. And on July fourth, seventeen seventy-six, members of the Second Continental Congress approved it. They called it "The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America."
Listen now to some of the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence.
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Today the original Declaration of Independence is shown at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C.
Independence Day is celebrated across the country as a national holiday. But it was not always that way.
Federal law says Congress can declare official holidays only for federal employees and the District of Columbia. States and local governments can choose to observe these holidays or declare their own.
Massachusetts became the first state to officially recognize Independence Day. That is where the Revolutionary War began. Massachusetts declared the Fourth of July a holiday in seventeen eighty-one. Two years later, Boston, Massachusetts, became the first city to make Independence Day an official holiday.
Outdoor gatherings with family and friends are a Fourth of July tradition. And no picnic meal would be complete without one of the favorite sweet fruits of summer -- watermelon.
“We get the watermelon all over our faces and hands," says a woman from Valencia, California. "Sometimes insects bite us. Or we get too much sun. But it would not be the Fourth of July without a picnic.”
Patriotic music is another Fourth of July tradition. Listen as Faith Hill sings "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Francis Scott Key wrote the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" in eighteen fourteen as America and Britain were at war. The poet and lawyer watched as British forces attacked Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.
After the battle ended, he could see that the American flag still waved above the fort. He wrote a poem and said it should be sung to the music of the popular English song "To Anacreon in Heaven."
That poem later became America's national anthem.
But some people say the high notes are too difficult to sing, or the words do not make enough sense. Some think “America the Beautiful” would make a better national anthem.
Cities and towns of all sizes hold Independence Day celebrations. Hebron, Indiana, with a population of less than four thousand, will hold a parade. In California, the Taiwan Visitors Association is one of the organizers of a music and fireworks show planned in San Francisco.
Not surprisingly, some of the biggest Fourth of July celebrations take place in the nation's capital. The National Independence Day Parade in Washington includes invited bands from across the country.
Then, in the evening, the National Symphony Orchestra performs a free concert. The event takes place on the West Lawn of the Capitol building, where Congress meets.
People gather along the National Mall to listen to the music. The United States Army Salute Battery provides cannon fire during the “Eighteen-Twelve Overture” by Tchaikovsky. And, weather permitting, the night ends with a big fireworks show over the Washington Monument.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. You can download a transcript and audio of this show at voaspecialenglish.com. And we hope you can join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.