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Bush visits Jefferson home to welcome new citizens

Times Staff Writer

On his last Fourth of July as commander in chief, President Bush made his first visit to Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Bush visited the estate in Charlottesville, Va., to attend the swearing-in of 72 new citizens from 30 countries, including one from Myanmar. He sounded emotional as he talked about spreading freedom to other countries, one of his rationales for going to war in Iraq.

Bush noted that Jefferson had called the principles in the Declaration of Independence universal.

“We honor Jefferson’s legacy by aiding the rise of liberty in lands that do not know the blessings of freedom,” he said.

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Without mentioning Iraq, Afghanistan or the war on terrorism, he added, “And on this Fourth of July, we pay tribute to the brave men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America.”

Bush was interrupted repeatedly by protesters shouting, “Defend the Constitution, impeach Bush!” and “War criminal!”

He diverged from his prepared remarks to explain to the new Americans: “We believe in free speech in the United States of America.”

Bush, who will celebrate his 62nd birthday Sunday, said he was delighted to spend part of the weekend at the home of the nation’s third president -- who died on July 4, 1826, the 50th birthday of the United States.

“This is a fitting place to celebrate our nation’s independence,” Bush said. “Thomas Jefferson once said he’d rather celebrate the Fourth of July than his own birthday. To me, it’s pretty simple -- the Fourth of July weekend is my birthday weekend.”

Praising Jefferson’s achievements as a well-read man whose book collection formed the basis of the Library of Congress, Bush said that although Jefferson was the nation’s first secretary of State, second vice president and third president, he hated public speaking.

Alluding to his own reputation for muffing speech lines, he said, “It seems Jefferson got away with only delivering two public speeches during his presidency.”

Pausing for the laugh, Bush added, “I’m sure a lot of Americans wish that were the case today.”

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