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Taking the Kids: To Philadelphia and America's most historic square mile

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Talk about second-guessing. Thomas Jefferson couldn't have been happy. In Philadelphia on July 2, 1776, the delegates to the Second Continental Congress finally voted for independence, but they continued to argue about every word of the Declaration of Independence, making 86 changes, before the edited version was adopted on July 4.

Jefferson wrote most of it in a little more than two hot, steamy weeks in the house where he was staying in Philadelphia near Independence Hall. (You can visit The Declaration House today and see what the rooms would have looked like when Jefferson worked and stayed there.)

Philadelphia, of course, is a terrific place to celebrate our country's birthday. Not only can you walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers and mothers (maybe even meeting one or two), but you can also celebrate big time with the Wawa Welcome America Festival, starting June 29, that offers parades, fireworks, free concerts (Jennifer Hudson will be performing alongside The Philly POPS and Meghan Trainor on July 4th), free museum days, community events, free outdoor movie screenings and more.

A fun fact: The first time the formal term "The United States of America" was used was in the Declaration of Independence.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed ... with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

But African Americans and women famously were left out, despite Abigail Adams' entreaties to her husband John to "Remember the Ladies ... Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could...."


Today, in all of Philadelphia's historic sites, the role of women and African Americans during revolutionary times is explored, including at The President’s House Site at Independence National Historical Parkwhere George Washington and John Adams once lived. Today, the site has an outdoor exhibit that explores the stories of the enslaved who lived and worked here then.

At the Betsy Ross House, one of the most popular stops for families, you not only meet Betsy -- and help her raise the flag on summer mornings -- but also Phillis, the washerwoman, who explains what life was like for free African Americans living here in the 18th century.

The Museum of the American Revolution, where kids love the interactive Revolution Place with army tents and "privy" that enable them to time-travel back to this part of Philadelphia, celebrates all those of different races, including American Indians, Hispanics and young teens who contributed to the revolutionary cause.

And the new Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality permanent exhibit at the National Constitution Center explains how the U.S. Constitution was transformed after the Civil War to finally embrace the Declaration of Independence's promise of liberty and equality.


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