Most people in the United States celebrate the 4th of July, but do you know exactly why the holiday is so important to our country? Imagine how you would feel if someone older than you (maybe an older sister or brother) kept telling you what to do all of the time and kept taking more and more of your allowance. That is how the colonists felt in the years leading up to 1776. Great Britain kept trying to make the colonists follow more rules and pay higher taxes. People started getting mad and began making plans to be able to make their own rules. They no longer wanted Great Britain to be able to tell them what to do, so they decided to tell Great Britain that they were becoming an independent country. (To be independent means to take care of yourself, making your own rules and providing for your own needs.)
The Congress met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and they appointed a committee (a group of people working together to do a specific job) to write a formal document that would tell Great Britain that the Americans had decided to govern themselves. The committee asked Thomas Jefferson to write a draft (first try) of the document, so he worked for days, in absolute secret, until he had written a document that he thought said everything important that the committee had discussed. On June 28, 1776, the committee met to read Jefferson's "fair" copy (he put his best ideas together and wrote them neatly.) They revised (made some changes) the document and declared their independence on July 2, 1776. They officially adopted it (made it theirs) on July 4, 1776. That is why we call it "Independence Day." Congress ordered that all members must sign the Declaration of Independence and they all began signing the "official" copy on August 2, 1776. In January of the next year, Congress sent signed copies to all of the states.
The Declaration of Independence is more than just a piece of paper. It is a symbol of our country's independence and commitment to certain ideas. A symbol is something that stands for something else. Most people can look at a certain little "swoosh" and know that it stands for "Nike." Well, the signers of the Declaration of Independence wanted the citizens of the United States to have a document that spelled out what was important to our leaders and citizens. They wanted us to be able to look at the Declaration of Independence and immediately think of the goals we should always be working for, and about the people who have fought so hard to make these ideas possible. The people who signed the Declaration risked being hanged for treason by the leaders in Great Britain. They had to be very brave to sign something that would be considered a crime! So every time we look at the Declaration of Independence, we should think about all of the effort and ideas that went into the document, and about the courage it took for these people to stand up for what they knew was right -- independence!