Americans celebrated their nation's 237th anniversary Thursday with parades, picnics, concerts and baseball games. President Barack Obama observed the holiday by honoring members of the U.S. military at the White House.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a barbecue and concert for more than 1,200 service members and their families. Afterward, they were treated to a concert by a Marine Band and the Grammy award-winning band FUN.
Obama thanked those he called "military heroes" for upholding American values around the world.
"People in scattered corners of the world are living in peace today, free to write their own futures, because of you," said President Obama.
The president recalled the bravery of what he termed "a small band of patriots" who declared America's independence in 1776, pledging their "lives...fortunes and...sacred honor." He paid tribute to "this improbable experiment in democracy" and its commitment to peace and freedom.
"And what makes us great is not our size or our wealth but our values and our ideals and the fact that we are willing to fight for them," said Obama.
A short distance away, tens of thousands gathered on Washington's National Mall for a concert and a huge fireworks display visible over much of the city.
A similar crowd gathered in Boston, Massachusetts for the traditional concert by the Boston Pops. Security was tight for the city's first major public event since the Boston Marathon bombings in April, in which three people were killed and hundreds wounded.
One of the nation's most prominent celebrations was in New York City, where the Statue of Liberty reopened, eight months after being damaged in a hurricane.
At the ceremony, the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, reflected on the statue's significance to generations of immigrants arriving in New York.
"Lady Liberty, whose welcome to all is "to all who yearn to breathe free" is just, I think, like the Fourth of July. It's at the heart of what America really is all about," he said.
Protests against government surveillance were held in a number of U.S. cities. Activists spoke against recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been secretly tracking phone calls and Internet activity.
Thursday also marked the first day of a weeklong series of naturalization ceremonies, in which almost 8,000 immigrants became U.S. citizens.
Audience members join arms as the Boston Pops play "God Bless America" during their Fourth of July Concert at the Hatch Shell in Boston, July 4, 2013
Independence Day fireworks light the sky over Washington, July 4, 2013.
Fireworks light up the Empire State Building along the Manhattan skyline during Macy's 37th Annual Fourth of July fireworks show, July 4, 2013, in New York.
Matthew Usher looks up at the clouds to check for rain as he waits for a concert to start as part of the Independence Day activities, July 4, 2013, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Fireworks explode over the Philadelphia Museum of Art during an Independence Day celebration, July 4, 2013, in Philadelphia.
Residents and visitors of Alexander's Lake sit out on their docks and in small boats as they watch neighborhood fireworks as they celebrate Independence Day, July 4, 2013, in Dayville, Connecticut.
Fireworks for Independence Day are seen on the New Jersey shore, July 3, 2013.
Fireworks light the sky over the U.S. Capitol, left, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial during Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, July 4, 2013.
Visitors to the Statue of Liberty disembark onto Liberty Island from the first ferry to leave Manhattan, July 4, 2013.
A girl poses as they visit the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island during its reopening to the public in New York, July 4, 2013. The Statue of Liberty closed in October during Superstorm Sandy.
President Barack Obama holds a baby as he greets members of the military and their families during a Fourth of July celebration on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 4, 2013.
A U.S. soldier cuts into a cake during Fourth of July celebrations at the Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, July 4, 2013.
A family buys fireworks at a TNT Fireworks stand in Monterey Park, California, July 2, 2013.
Heavy traffic during the Fourth of July weekend backs up the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, the main route from Washington, DC to beaches along the Delmarva Peninsula.
A U.S. flag, in the shape of the country, is unfurled in the outfield before a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park in Washington, July 4, 2013.