If you were fortunate enough to be on Mars Hill Mountain, Maine, on July 4, you would be among the very few to see the first sunrise in the United States on Independence Day (at 4:44 a.m.).

And if you happen to be at Cape Wrangell, Attu Island, Alaska, (a bit unlikely, since it became uninhabited in 2010) you would see the last sunset in the United States on Independence Day (at 11:55 p.m.).*

In between that sunrise and sundown, there will be nearly 329 million people with thousands of good reasons for gratitude to those founders and visionaries who imagined a democratic government for the settlers who came to the colonies, and who set about to create a society built on the idea of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

It must have been a very exciting moment on that first Independence Day, when the Continental Congress voted to ratify the Declaration of Independence from England. It was then that representatives from each of the 13 colonies declared that the American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and were no longer part of the British Empire.

John Adams was among those who framed and signed the Declaration. Adams was destined to become the first vice president and then the second president of the new nation. On July 3, 1776, John Adams expressed his excitement for the new nation in a letter he wrote to his wife, Abigail—and he predicted how future generations would celebrate Independence Day:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.  It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Americans have taken his words to heart.  Across the country, this Independence Day will be filled with celebrations of every size and kind. From parades to picnics, from baseball to barbeques, from Mars Hill, Maine, to Attu Island, Alaska, we will celebrate from dawn until dark. And even then, the sky will be bright with fireworks commemorating the establishment of our great country.

I will be among those celebrating America’s birthday with gratitude and thankfulness, for this great nation of opportunity, promise, and hope—even amidst difficult times. From sea to shining sea—Happy Independence Day!

*These stats don’t include the US territories, which render completely different results.