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Washington Beat: Declaration of Independence Was First to Announce Nation's Birth

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It was 238 years ago that the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and established America as an independent nation. Washington reporter Geoff Bennett takes a look at the historic document that started it all and filed the following report.

Most Americans celebrate Independence Day by firing up the backyard barbecue and watching fireworks, all the while forgetting about the document that gave birth to America: the Declaration of Independence. The all-important symbol of American democracy is on permanent display at the National Archives in Washington where visitors can see it firsthand and learn more about its history.

"The job of writing the Declaration of Independence was given to five people. They were called the Committee of Five. And we mostly remember Thomas Jefferson for doing this," said Rebecca Martin, Education Specialist at The National Archives.

The five men submitted their group writing assignment to the Second Continental Congress. After a series of debates, the lawmakers finally agreed on the wording.

"Jefferson said they mutilated his document. But in the end, everybody was reasonably happy. And so that’s how we got the text that we think of today as the Declaration of Independence," Martin said.

On July 4, 1776, Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. Today, the 238-year-old document is kept in this dark rotunda, which helps keep the ink from fading. It's secured inside a titanium case filled with argon.

"And argon is an inert gas, if you remember your periodic table. It doesn't react with parchment, and so that’s one way we can keep the document in as perfect condition as we can," Martin said.

Every year, the National Archives celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on the archives' steps with patriotic music and a dramatic reading of the Declaration by historical re-enactors.

Those words served as a call to arms against British rule and sealed the fate of revolution.
It's why the Declaration of Independence is considered to be one of the most influential political documents ever written.

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