Congress Passes U.S.A. 250th Anniversary Commission Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington, DC – Ten years before the nation’s 250th anniversary in July 2026, a bipartisan team in both chambers of Congress passed HR4875, the United States Semiquincentennial Commission Act of 2016, led by U.S. Senators Bob Casey, Pat Toomey, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Ron Wyden, and by U.S. Representatives Patrick Meehan, Robert Brady, Brendan Boyle, and Ryan Costello.

The newly established commission will facilitate national plans leading into the Semiquincentennial. The 32-member body of public and private citizens will solicit ideas for the 250th anniversary and develop a report with recommendations to the President and to Congress within two years of its formation.

“The nation’s Semiquincentennial is an opportunity for all Americans to engage in a shared project of national unity, celebrating what brings us together while striving toward the best version of ourselves that we can be, as individual citizens, families, and communities,” says USA250 Board Chair and civic leader Andrew Hohns. “We thank the legislators from both parties who championed this legislation to enable the national planning to begin.”

U.S. Sen. Casey reflects, “The United States’ 250th anniversary is a momentous mark in our nation’s history and future. The commission’s purpose is to dedicate time to mapping out the look and feel of this celebration. I am excited to see what they come up with.”

Inspired by his favorite Founding Father, U.S. Rep. Meehan adds, “We are following Benjamin Franklin’s legendary advice that ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ This new commission is the same process that was used in planning for the Bicentennial celebrations across all 50 states in 1976. There is much to do and we’re glad to get started.”

By law, the commission will convene its meetings at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Its recommendations will give special emphasis to locations of historical significance to the United States, individuals who have made a significant impact on the nation’s development, and the ideas that have advanced the “quest for freedom of all mankind.”

“Americans today owe a debt to our founders who imagined a nation conceived in liberty and who risked everything, including their lives, to make it so,” remarks U.S. Sen. Toomey. “Pennsylvania played a pivotal role in the birth of our country and in the composition of the documents that outline our values and the role of our government.  I am proud to join Senator Casey, and my colleagues in the Senate and House, to begin to plan for our country’s 250th birthday.”

“This legislation completes the process we began in 2009, when I introduced the original measure, HR986, to establish this important commission,” says U.S. Rep. Brady. “I am in awe of the work that USA250 has done to reach this point and greatly appreciate the bipartisan support my colleagues have given them.”

In addition to coordinating with state and local planners, the commission may encourage federal agencies to integrate the Semiquincentennial into their everyday activities. Five members of the President’s cabinet will serve on the commission, as well as the heads of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, and the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

U.S. Sen. Whitehouse shares, “Congratulations to USA250 and all those working to commemorate our nation’s 250th anniversary. I encourage the new Semiquincentennial Commission to work with leaders throughout the country on events that celebrate our shared values and the influence our great nation has had throughout the world.”

“This is our chance as a nation to inspire a new generation of citizens leading into the nation’s next 250 years,” U.S. Rep. Boyle notes. “The ‘Semiquin’ will be much more than a birthday party; it will be a moment to take pause and focus on the history of the democracy in which we live, and take those lessons into the future we will shape together.”


For more information and to access the full legislation text, visit www.usa250.org/commission.

USA250 is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization making big plans for America’s 250th anniversary in 2026. The Pennsylvania-based group was founded by private citizens to promote a celebration of the Semiquincentennial and to facilitate a conversation on the nation’s future, driven by the values and philosophy articulated in the Declaration of Independence. 

 

Contact:

Jon Grabelle Herrmann, USA250, 267-307-2446, jon@usa250.org

 

Denbo: “We hold these truths to be self-evident”

Guest post by Seth Denbo, Washington DC.

I still remember my line from the school play in second grade. Costumed like a minuteman, I proclaimed “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” It was 1976, and elementary school teachers across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief about not having to think up a theme for the play that year.

At the time I felt, as much as an eight year old can, a sense of national pride. And for me that pride was not misplaced. My family’s story is as iconic as it is clichéd. I’m one of the 40% of Americans who has a relative that passed through Ellis Island. My great-grandparents all left Eastern Europe to escape anti-semitism and make a better life for themselves and their families. And they did. They settled in South Jersey and central Pennsylvania, became grocers and tailors, and loved the country that had taken them in. There is little doubt that the generations they begat in the US would have faired far worse as Europeans than they did as Americans.

The stories we tell about throwing off the shackles of old world tyranny, of the mass immigrations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, of the emancipation of the slaves, of universal suffrage, are all told through the lens of increasing liberty. Freedom and liberty are central ideas that shape how we understand the society in which we live. But these concepts only have meaning in opposition to slavery and tyranny, both specters that continue to haunt American society.

Celebrations of our nation’s founding have been influenced by the situation and the divisions of the time. They tell us more about the mood in 1876, 1926, and 1976 than about the period being commemorated. The 1876 Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia was a huge success, which has a lasting legacy in the buildings and collections of the Smithsonian Institution. But even while millions visited “the Centennial,” among the southern states that had suffered defeat in the Civil War just a decade before, only Mississippi participated. Fifty years later proposals for another a similar exhibition led to years of dispute among Philadelphians. Residents actively resisted the plans, concerned that they would end up footing the bill for a celebration that would only benefit business interests in the city. A much smaller fair in South Philadelphia was ultimately poorly attended and a financial disaster for its backers.

50 years ago, on July 4th 1966, President Johnson signed into law the bill that created the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, beginning a decade long process of preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of July 4, 1776. The preparations for the year of celebrations brought urban renewal to Center City and improvements in historic preservation on Independence Mall and Valley Forge. But this was also a challenging time in our history for patriotic celebration. Early plans for a much larger scale event divided people along racial lines. Radical groupsmarched to call attention to class divisions. The memories of Vietnam and Watergate were fresh in everyone’s mind.

The US Senate has already passed a bill creating the United States Semiquincentennial Commission, and the House is now considering it. National commemorative celebrations are moments of reflection on the meaning of collective ideals. Liberty means very different things to different people, just as it did to the founders of our democracy. As we begin preparing for the celebration of yet another national anniversary we must remember that most of our immigrant ancestors arrived on these shores after independence and came from other parts of the world (PDF) than those who were here in the 1770s. They brought with them different conceptions of the meaning of liberty.

Any celebration of American independence must acknowledge both the good and the bad, the freedom and the slavery, those for whom European immigration meant the end of their civilization, those for whom the American dream comes true, and those who never realize it. Immigrants today want what my great-grandparents wanted, a better life for themselves and future generations. To deny that and pretend that those who came before have a greater claim to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is to lie to ourselves about who we are and what our democracy means. Let’s plan a celebration that helps our nation to become that ideal.

 

Seth Denbo is director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives at the American Historical Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @seth_denbo.

Hohns on NBC: How can we be a better version of America?

This July 4, 2016, is exactly ten years away from America’s 250th anniversary in 2026.

USA250’s board chair, Andrew Hohns, sat down with NBC10’s Keith Jones to discuss past national anniversary celebrations and what’s to come:

“It’s our responsibility to convene the nation every so often to reflect on how can we be a better version of America, and what can we do to form a more perfect union….

This is not just a party in Philadelphia. This is an opportunity for our entire nation to celebrate our success, and also to come together for a project of national unity.”

NBC:

Facebook:

Click here to watch the full interview on Facebook.


As America hits the 10-year mark to the big anniversary, we are proud to have the support of bipartisan Members of Congress working to establish the United States Semiquincentennial Commission. For more information, visit www.usa250.org/commission.

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