On history, freedom, and 250 years

Below are remarks by USA250 executive director Jon Grabelle Herrmann, at the announcement event for Utah’s future George Washington Museum of American History, June 7, 2018:

“To our Members of United States Congress and distinguished guests, thank you for the opportunity join with you. I come to DC today from Philadelphia by way of New York, a succession that feels quite in keeping with the founding of the country.


USA250 was formed by a group of Americans who want to ensure that the nation’s 250th anniversary can achieve its full potential as a uniquely powerful, once-in-generations civic milestone and celebration for the country.


I want to thank the team and leadership of the George Washington Museum and the State of Utah for bringing their vision to this big occasion.


It was a privilege for us to work with Congress as they unanimously passed the US Semiquincentennial Commission Act in 2016. And we are pleased that the Commission’s leadership is now in place, including our friends here today from the American Battlefield Trust, who serves as the Secretariat arm of the commission.


A personal story:


I recently had the opportunity to visit the WWII Museum in New Orleans, where my own family’s story was written on the walls. My mother’s family participated in the homefront and US effort, with my grandfather serving in the Battle of Anzio. Meanwhile, my father’s family learned first hand what it meant to live without the basic rights to life, freedom, or to pursue happiness. After they were ghettoized, their German citizenship revoked, later enslaved, and tortured, my grandfather, his mother and brothers survived the Holocaust. And my great grandfather, great aunt, and cousins were were murdered by the Nazi regime.


The story of Jews in America has not always been uniformly positive, but ultimately the United States — for my family — has been the place where the liberties and security we celebrate today we have been realized. Without our nation’s commitment to freedom, I would not be here to tie my own story to the patriotism of the nation’s founders and the heroic and patriotic leadership of generations of Americans who worked to fulfill an ever more perfect union.


In 1776, the Founding Fathers made a Revolutionary commitment that changed world history: that all men — and in subsequent generations not only white, land-owning men, but all men; and in subsequent generations not only men but also women; and subsequently confirming that yes, all people — have the right to live, to be free, and to pursue happiness: no matter who you are, what you believe, or where you come from. That is the promise of America, that is the achievement of America. That is the hope that we provide at home and abroad. That is the standard that our soldiers fight for and that our citizens demand.


As we approach 2026, we will surely throw a big, incredible birthday party. It will be red, white, and blue and it will be a the experience of a lifetime. But we should remember that, at the core, our task is to understand how our national commitment to freedom underpins that celebration. America’s history has been complicated, imperfect, and yet still revolutionary and a beacon to the world.


In that spirit, we thank Eric Dowdle, Tim Ballard, Paul Cardall, and the George Washington team for contributing their vision and talents to this important national project. We invite all Americans to raise their hand and participate in the exciting plans for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026.”

Photo courtesy of George Washington Museum of American History. From left to right: U.S. Rep. John Curtis, Jon Grabelle Herrmann (USA250), U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, Eric Dowdle (GWM), Tim Ballard (GWM), Paul Cardall (GWM)