Looking back at 242 years, and ahead to 250

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” for all mankind.

These words from 1776 — a newly declared, American promise — called out to the patriots of the American Revolution and inspired later generations of citizens, activists, innovators, thinkers, women, men, and all Americans striving for a better future.

100 years later in 1876, nearly 1 in 4 Americans came together for the Centennial world’s fair, where the principles of the Declaration of Independence were translated into a grand celebration. Americans were introduced to new ways to live (the telephone), to new symbols of freedom (the Statue of Liberty), and to new forms of happiness (sugared popcorn!).

America’s anniversary celebrations were multidisciplinary in nature, spanning arts, culture, innovation, history, state and international participation, carnivals, and more. But of course, they were underpinned by the story of the world-changing events of the American Revolution and beyond.

Leading into the Jubilee in 1826, Congress ordered replica copies of the Declaration of Independence as interest grew to celebrate Independence Day as a unifying and not a partisan event. By a remarkably historic coincidence, the deaths of both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — on July 4, 1826 — brought the nation’s founding events to the forefront of the public’s attention.

The 1876 Centennial prompted a deeper exploration of the people, events, and ideas of the Revolution, even sparking a new movement of patriotic lineage associations. Jumping ahead to 1976, the Bicentennial’s American Freedom Train captured 200 years of American history in an exhibit that visited 200 cities, connecting historical artifacts such as George Washington’s copy of the Constitution to Martin Luther King’s pulpit and robes. For the Bicentennial, the nation invested significant resources in our historical and heritage assets in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and beyond.

Against this backdrop of history and celebrations, USA250 was launched ten years ago by civic leaders with a simple question:

In 2026, how will the USA renew our founding promise as we enter our next 250 years?

USA250 is a group of Americans driving a national vision to answer that question leading into and through 2026. We are nonpartisan, nonprofit, patriotic, inclusive, and collaborative in our approach. Headquartered in Philadelphia, and with team members and partners across the country, we promote a celebration of the people, by the people, and for the people.

When USA250 incorporated in 2011, we recognized that there was no playbook available for the planning of America’s 250th anniversary events. We conducted research on past American anniversaries and similar celebrations around the world, including delegation visits to the 2015 world expo in Milan and to Canada’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2017.

In keeping with best practices for any major, modern-day event of this magnitude, USA250 has begun to organize leadership in key sectors — government, business, and civil society — to ensure that the 250th anniversary initiative and celebration can enjoy the supporting coalition of leaders necessary for an event of this magnitude and importance.

As a result of USA250’s efforts, and thanks to bipartisan leadership in Congress, the core federal government team is now in place for the US Semiquincentennial Commission. The Commission’s official meetings at Independence Hall will begin in October 2018. The White House has designated the Commission’s chairperson to be Dan DiLella; its executive director is Frank Giordano; and the nonprofit serving as the body’s administrative secretariat is the American Battlefield Trust. USA250’s board chair, Andrew Hohns, was honored to be appointed by Congress to serve as a Member of the Commission.

Moving forward, USA250 will continue our work as a leading, national, private-sector network of institutions and individuals working toward the success of the United States’ 250th anniversary.

We are bringing Americans together to ensure that the Semiquincentennial can achieve its full potential as a moment of inspiration, unity, historical reflection, and civic renewal for the country. We serve as a dynamic and accessible entry point to inspire creative, philanthropic, educational, civic, and even commercial partnerships and programs for America’s 250th anniversary in communities nationwide.

Join us, and stay tuned for more to come in the months ahead.

And… Happy Independence Day!