There are so many great ways to celebrate Independence Day. Outdoor concerts. Fireworks displays. Backyard cookouts. But the Fourth of July is about more than hotdogs and firecrackers. Why not take this year’s holiday as a chance to discover what the celebration is all about?

More than 200 years ago, a group of representatives from each of the thirteen original colonies decided that they had had enough of the harsh treatment and neglect that the colonies were receiving from King George III of England, their supposed leader. So after much spirited debate, the Continental Congress, as they were collectively known, decided to sever ties with England and establish the United States as a free and sovereign nation. The document they prepared and signed we know today as the Declaration of Independence.

But the process was far from easy, and characterized by a great deal of discord, disagreement, and ultimately compromise. A handful of men emerged as the primary proponents of independence, and collectively we remember them as the Founding Fathers. For a tuneful, and surprisingly accurate, representation of the political struggle leading up to the crafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, check out the filmed version of the Broadway musical 1776.

If you’re interested in travelling to trace the footsteps of these brave and influential men, here’s a selection of locations where you can explore how they lived and why they decided that independence was worth fighting for.  

Massachusetts

John Adams’s birthplace in Quincy, Mass.

John Adams was the primary agitator for independence in the Continental Congress. And “agitator” is the key word here, and by all accounts, Adams was forceful, blunt, and hard-headed. But without Adams, this country might never have been founded in the first place. The homestead of the Adams family (not to be confused with The Addams Family), is in Quincy, Massachusetts, where you can visit not just the house where Adams lives with his wife and children, but also the tiny home where he was born.

Another Massachusetts resident who was central to the fight for independence was John Hancock, who served as the President of the Continental Congress, thus presiding over the Independence debate. Hancock was born in Braintree, Mass., but at the time of the independence declaration he lived in a house on Beacon Hill in Boston. The house is no longer there, but it sat on the site of what is now the Massachusetts State House. But you can visit Faneuil Hall, where he made an impassioned speech condemning the Boston Massacre, which took place a short walk away. While you’re in Boston, you can also walk the Freedom Trail, a path of about two and a half miles that connects many of the historic Revolutionary War sites in Boston, including  the Boston Tea Party ship and the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy.

Pennsylvania

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Philadelphia is another city steeped in the history of the American Revolution. One of its most influential denizens was Benjamin Franklin. Although Franklin never became a U.S. president, he was nonetheless indispensable in persuading his fellow members of the Continental Congress to vote for independence. Franklin’s home on Market Street was sadly torn down 22 years after his death in 1790, but his residence is commemorated by a complex of historical sites in Philadelphia called Franklin Court, which includes a steel frame representing the house itself and a newly constructed Ben Franklin Museum. While you’re in Philadelphia, you can also visit Independence Hall, where the spirited debate over independence and the signing of the Declaration took place. A few yards from Independence Hall you’ll find the famed Liberty Bell, which was last rung in 1846, but retired from service when it developed its famous crack while ringing in a celebration of George Washington’s birthday.

You may also enjoy: 7 Amazing Fourth of July Getaways That’ll Make Your Long Weekend Awesome!

Virginia

Mount Vernon

Virginia was home to three of the most influential men in the American fight for independence, including George Washington. Washington was the commander in chief of the Continental Army, and led a ragtag group of tired, hungry soldiers to victory against an army five times its size. Washington’s home in Mount Vernon, Virginia is lovingly preserved, and stands as a testament to the greatness and importance that Washington achieved in his lifetime.

Also making his home in Virginia Virginia was Thomas Jefferson, the man who actually wrote the Declaration of independence itself. Jefferson was a many of many accomplishments, one of which lay in designing his fabled home, in Charlottesville, Virginia, known as Monticello.

Slightly less known today is Richard Henry Lee from Stratford, Virginia. Lee served on the Virginia delegation to the continental Congress. And it was Lee who secured from his state legislature the proposal to declare independence from England. From a political standpoint, it was important that the proposal come from a Southern state for the rest of the Southern Congressional delegation to take the proposal seriously.

Want to find out more? Then start looking for some great deals on Independence Day travel and take a step back in time to explore our country’s origins.

Do you have a favorite site commemorating U.S. history? Let us know in the comments below. 

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