Where you can celebrate Independence Day with Ben Franklin and George Washington

Before the fireworks shows go up in the nation’s capital, an annual tradition dating back to 1969 will take place on the steps of the National Archives.

On the morning of the Fourth of July, some familiar faces including Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Ben Franklin, George Washington, as well as John and Abigail Adams will read the Declaration of Independence.

“In Washington, D.C., we’re the first official event to kick off the celebration,” said Colleen Shogan, Archivist of the United States.

The re-enactors portraying some of the most notable names in American history will also look to the audience to take part, in what Shogan said is a family-friendly event.

“Our crowd (is) using cues from our re-enactors, times in which we can all cheer for things that are said in the declaration and, of course, times in which we yell, ‘huzzah’ or ‘boo,’ when there are things that are being said about Great Britain (and) King George overstepping his bounds,” Shogan said.

The event will also include a performance from the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, plus singing of the national anthem.

Shogan said this reading celebrates the country’s most important founding document, which is housed at the National Archives. It was adopted on July 4, 1776, to declare the United States independent from Great Britain.

“It also has some really important principles that we tend to think of, as Americans, as our founding principles, such as all men are created equal, the notion that we have unalienable rights that can’t be denied that include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So, it really is our nation’s creed,” Shogan said.

This document, which some may call “revolutionary” or consider “the most radical document in human existence,” according to Shogan, is the first document which pronounced that individuals had rights, and that there was a value to liberty and equality — things that did not exist previously.

“Before that governments were run by who was most powerful or who had hereditary right to that government, such as a king, and this upends all of that, and puts the power back to individual people,” she said.

As we read the document today, Shogan said pronouncements such as “all men are created equal” which was written into the document by Thomas Jefferson who owned slaves at the time, show there is still work to do.

“It is a promise or an ideal that we continue to try to live up to, not something that was fulfilled on July 4, 1776, just by writing it down or simply stating it. It’s something we have to put into action as Americans,” Shogan said.

The event starts at 10 a.m. on the steps of the National Archives. After the reading, attendees are encouraged to come into the building and see the actual document on display.

There will also be family-friendly activities which include a chance for you to sign a copy of the Declaration of Independence or get a picture with the re-enactors.

“If you’ve always wanted to have a picture with George Washington or Abigail Adams, then you should come on in and we can make that happen,” Shogan said.

The ceremony will also be livestreamed on the National Archives YouTube channel and on the U.S. National Archives Facebook page.

WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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