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Americans Celebrate Independence Day Holiday - 2003-07-04

Americans set aside fears of terrorism Friday to celebrate the July 4 Independence Day holiday with fireworks displays and patriotic concerts.

One of this year's most stirring celebrations took place in Philadelphia. It all began in that Pennsylvania city 227 years ago, when the architects of the American Revolution adopted the Declaration of Independence.

Written by Thomas Jefferson, the document holds "that all men are created equal" and have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

To mark this Independence Day, a new museum honoring the U.S. Constitution was opened to the public, amid great fanfare and speeches from dignitaries.

Among the attendees was Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She was given Philadelphia's Liberty Medal for actions she has taken that represent the founding principles of the United States.

Justice O'Connor told the crowd that everyone - citizens, judges, members of Congress and the president - has an obligation to uphold the Constitution.

"That, only citizens with knowledge about the content and meaning of our constitutional guarantees of liberty are likely to cherish those concepts," she said.

President George W. Bush spent part of his Fourth of July at an Air Force base in Ohio. There, he paid tribute to American soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere, and urged Americans to reflect on how far the country has come from its humble beginnings as 13 separate British colonies:

"The land of 13 states and fewer than four million people grew and prospered. And today, all who live in tyranny, and all who yearn for freedom place their hopes in the United States of America," the president said.

Fourth of July celebrations for U.S. troops went ahead in Iraq, despite daily attacks from Saddam loyalists. Hollywood action star Arnold Schwarznegger was the featured guest at an Independence Day celebration at U.S. Army headquarters in Baghdad.

"I have to say, first of all, congratulations for saying 'hasta la vista, baby' to Saddam," he joked.

Back home, millions of Americans marked the July Fourth holiday with barbecues, fireworks displays and patriotic concerts. Security was tight at many celebrations around the country, but apprehension about potential terrorist attacks appeared to be much lower than a year ago.

As always, July 4 presents an opportunity for politicians, citizens and historians to ponder the nature of American democracy.

American University historian Allan Lichtman told VOA-TV that many Americans are feeling a renewed sense of patriotism in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks and the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"And I think the events of the last two years have led Americans to really think in very new ways about what we have in common in this country, what is so special about the American experience, and even to debate in sometimes contentious ways how best to realize American values, both in this country and internationally, when those values are universal propositions like democracy and liberty," he said.