It was a time for parades, picnics and politics as Americans celebrated the nation's Independence Day holiday. Both President Bush and Senator John Kerry were on the road - seeking votes in key states.

President Bush took his campaign to West Virginia on the Fourth of July.

There were cheers from flag-waving supporters and music from a military band, as Mr. Bush made his way to a podium on the grounds of the State Capitol Building.

He spoke of the men of vision and courage who founded the United States. He said the nation is proud of them, and they would be proud of the America that salutes them on the Fourth of July.

"They would see a nation that is the world's foremost champion of liberty," he said. "They would see a nation, which stands strong in the face of violent men. They would see a reliable friend of any dissident or political prisoner who dreams of justice. That's what they would see in the great land they created."

The president struck an optimistic chord, saying America is moving forward and defending its values. He made special mention of members of the U.S. military now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said both countries now have responsible leaders who believe in the power of freedom.

"We've got an ally in these two leaders, because they understand what we know: Free men and women will be peaceful men and women," said Mr. Bush. "Free men and women will be able to realize their deep desires. Listen, moms and dads in Iraq want to be able to raise their children in a society where their children can have a bright future, just like the moms and dads in America do."

His words brought cheers from his audience, especially his remarks on the military. Although Democratic Party members far outnumber Republicans in West Virginia, the president has won support in this state with a high military enlistment record and large numbers of veterans.

Meanwhile, John Kerry was taking part in Fourth of July celebrations in the appropriately named town of Independence, Iowa. But he made news with an opinion article he wrote for the holiday edition of The Washington Post.

He once again took issue with the Bush administration's Iraq policy. The Massachusetts senator said the United States is not pursuing the most effective path, and more international cooperation is needed.

While the candidates were making speeches, a different sort of July 4th observance was under way in New York City.

The mood was somber, as the cornerstone was laid for a new building at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. Etched on the granite slab are the words: "To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom."

New York Governor George Pataki said he chose July 4th to start construction on the Freedom Tower, to show that America's faith in freedom endures

"Let this great Freedom Tower show the world that what our enemies sought to destroy - our democracy, our way of life - stands taller than ever before," he said.

When complete in a few years, the Freedom Tower will be the tallest building in the world.