Independence Day

Happy birthday, America! Picnics, barbeques, cold drinks and fireworks: These are just some of the staples of the Fourth of July. But without America’s Founding Fathers -- George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and James Monroe -- there wouldn’t be an Independence Day to celebrate.

US Independence Day, also referred to as the Fourth of July or July Fourth in the U.S., is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress declaring that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire.

Immediately after it was printed, the Declaration sparked worldwide debate on the legitimacy of colonial rule.

Several countries used the document as a shining beacon in their own struggles for independence and adopted Jefferson as their figurehead. Jefferson himself predicted that American independence would be a catalyzing force — a "ball of liberty," he called it — that would soon make its way across the globe.

First came France, whose revolution in the 1780s and 90s drew upon the American experience and literature on the subject for inspiration. Jefferson happened to be a minister to France at the time and became an ardent supporter of the revolutionaries, even helping to draft a charter of rights in support of a new republic, eerily similar to the one he'd written just over a decade prior.

With its mother country France in disarray, another colony inspired by the American Revolution sought independence in the late 18th century. Haiti had been a profitable sugar and coffee colony for centuries, known as one of the cruelest plantation islands in the Caribbean. Led by freed slave Toussaint L'Ouverture, who quoted the Declaration of both France and America to draw support for the uprising, Haiti gained its own liberty in 1804. Ironically, former slaves in Haiti had used the Declaration of Independence as a model for their fight for freedom while the document gave no such rights to slaves in the United States.

In the years that followed, themes from the Declaration were used to justify further independence movements in Greece, Poland, Russia and throughout South America. A world of empires was gradually turning into a world of sovereign states. — Heather Whipps