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The American Revolution 250th Update

Graphic by America 250.

Can you feel the excitement mounting? We keep getting closer and closer to the 250th anniversary of the birth of the United States. The anticipation rises. What a glorious day that will be on July 4, 2026. If only we can get past the upcoming presidential election and have a country as we know it to celebrate the event … or if you prefer to commemorate it.

In this blog I wish to present some developments in the 250th. It does not cover everything, but it does touch upon some of the highlights. We should keep in mind that 2024 is the 250th anniversary of 1774. There is no prohibition in having local events this year just as Boston did last year for the Tea Party.

What, to Americans Today, Is the Fourth of July?

By Nancy Spannaus / In American Revolution, News / March 25, 2024

A Report and Reflections on the Virginia250 Conference held in Williamsburg, March 18-20

It was my pleasure to join my husband in attending the annual conference of the Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission last week. Under the title “A Common Cause to All,” the Commission, in partnership with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, brought together 450 individuals from 37 states and all around Virginia, to discuss plans for commemoration and celebration of our nation’s 250th birthday, July 4, 2026. We were lavishly wined and dined, and able to meet and discuss with individuals devoted to celebrating American history.

This is a big conference. I wonder whether any other state or even national organization is or plans to host a comparable dedicated national conference. Clearly Virginia is thinking big time. Remember the AMC series Turn about the spy ring based in New York? The show not only was filmed in Virginia but was advertised by Virginia with nary an I LOVENY commercial in sight. Virginia takes its American Revolution seriously.

The situation today is quite different from 1826 and 1976.

All sought in their own way to address the problem of how to do justice to this momentous event, and bring national unity, in this time of historic political polarization and documented indifference or even hostility from the younger generation.

These words cut to the core of the challenge facing organizers of the American Revolution 250th. It is a time to strive for national unity as Americans, to recognize that we cannot take the Declaration of Independence or Constitution for granted anymore. The reality is we live in a time when these documents have been weaponized as if they do not apply to all American citizens.

I would argue that the second most stirring presentation during this conference was given by Dr. Danielle Allen, the author of the 2014 book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. Dr. Allen’s advocacy for the Declaration has inspired a citizens’ movement to sponsor public readings of the founding document every July 4 – a movement that my husband and I have participated in for the last several years in our small town.    

In a previous blog, I asked what is your ceremony of belonging as an American (What Is Our Ceremony of Belonging? July 8, 2023).  I was referring to local events where the people of a community come together to express their shared identity as Americans. It is interesting to note that around July 4 each year I receive many notices about a reading of Frederick Douglass’s speech and virtually none about the reading of the Declaration itself. True the latter was written as a legal brief and not a rousing speech. Some of the clauses are difficult to hear now out of context, but still it is telling that the founding document gets such short thrift on its birthday.

The most contentious of the discussions occurred during the “Fireside Chat with Jefferson and Early American Scholars,” which featured Professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina, and Jane Kamensky, President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. Holton took the approach that historians should begin teaching the flaws and contradictions of the American founding to children from a very young age. He resolutely objected to the compromises made by the Founding generation. At the conclusion, he even opined that he would have preferred that we stick with the Confederation government, rather than the Constitution.   

 Kamensky, on the other hand, was at pains to emphasize the complexity and flaws of not only the founders, but those who are judging them today. The United States was born a question, she said, and we must educate our children to participate in our democracy by both celebrating and criticizing its practices. Compromise was and is necessary to the preservation of the Union, which is a positive achievement, she asserted. 

I suspect that history organizations will struggle over precisely this difference. Previously I have written about two types of conferences on the American Revolution (Sense of Place versus the Ivory Tower: The American Revolution 250th July 23, 2022). One is the academic one which tends to be highly critical of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. The ivory tower conferences routinely fail to notice how many countries have been republics and or democracies for 250 years especially as a large multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious political entity. You would almost think such countries are par for the course and what makes us exceptional is our failure to match the longevity of such counties around the world.

The other type of conference often at battlefields and not colleges or universities. They focus on how it came to be that We the People won the war against the most powerful country on earth. They have no objection to including how all peoples contributed to that effort but are not judgmental in that the war never should have occurred or that if we have not lived up to the words of our founding that the experiment should be declared a failure. Virginia certainly is promoting the sense of place engagement with the American Revolution where people will come and visit the sites where it occurred just as people did for the Boston Tea Party in December 2023.

The panel on “Approaches to Public Engagement” laid out some of the large challenges facing those committed to the 250th celebration. Speaker Matt Williams works for a firm which does polling, and had been commissioned to carry out a study of Americans’ views of history in late 2022. The firm interviewed 2400 people, 50% of them young, and 50% on the Eastern Seaboard. The “bad” news was that 60-70% said that history made them anxious, and they were tuning it out. An additional survey of teachers produced the disheartening result that it was “very difficult” to engage students in studying history, especially in suburbia. Some potential remedies – the use of museums, primary documents, and digital presentations – were also discussed.

There should be no doubt that schools will be a battleground in the celebration/commemoration of the American Revolution. They already are a battleground. The intensity of the conflict is only likely to increase after the presidential elections. The discourse during our Third Civil War will result in increasing calls for violence depending on the results of that election. The irony is just as we prepare more vigorously to celebrate the birth of the United States, there will be more and more calls to somehow separate into our two houses.

A special treat was the sneak preview of the upcoming film series by Ken Burns entitled “The American Revolution,” which promises to be highly influential. The six-part series was begun eight years ago and will be released in the fall of 1775. The preview was provided by Paula Kerger, President and CEO of the Public Broadcasting System, and Sarah Botstein, an associate of Burns who is working on the film. Botstein described the intensive process of scholarly research involved and the problems of dealing with a lack of physical evidence and images – unlike in Burns’ films about the Civil War and Vietnam. She then showed two short sketches, one dealing with the role of women in the resistance to the Tea Act, and the other to Bunker Hill.

Can Ken Burns save us? Can he obtain blockbuster ratings given the media structure today? Will his film series become the basis for curriculum? Can he wave his magic media wand and bring Americans together? Obviously, I do not know what will happen.


The state of Connecticut highlights some of the issues where the rubber hits road. It brings to a more local level some of the high level concerns expressed in the report on the national conference in Virginia. The recent state conference according to its notice said the following:

America 250 | CT Information:

Commission created pursuant to Executive Order No. 22-2, which instructs it to:

1. promote the documentation, identification, and preservation of cultural and historic resources, including archives, buildings, landscapes, objects, and sites related to the semiquincentennial period

2. assist in ensuring that any observance of the semiquincentennial of the American Revolution is inclusive and appropriately recognizes the experiences and points of view of all people affected by the events surrounding the American Revolution

3. encourage civic, historical, educational, economic, arts and other organizations throughout the state to organize and participate in activities to expand the understanding and appreciation of the significance of the American Revolution

4. collaborate with state and local tourism agencies to promote the state as a prominent cultural and heritage tourism destination for American Revolution history.

 This part could have come from the Bicentennial. Then come the changes.

Other big ideas:

1. By recognizing this moment in our history, the nation has the opportunity to lay the groundwork for a reawakening of civic engagement by encouraging the participation of all residents.

2. The Commission is committed to providing guidance for how to make this inclusive of all people in Connecticut and accessible to anyone who wants to participate

3. Although we are commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the Commission goes beyond that to reflect on the last 250 years of history and consider and shape the next 250 years.

Here we may start to observe shift in emphasis from the traditional celebration to a commemoration reflecting what has happened and what may happen. There is the hope that somehow the semiquincentennial will have a magical effect on people.

And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come (James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams).

I write this blog as women’s basketball is setting records for is college championship and a team from Iowa is having a magical year including a game against Connecticut.

America 250 | CT Themes

1.Tell Inclusive Stories: Share stories that represent all of Connecticut’s people, past and present; Tell previously untold stories to enable everyone to find a place in our nation’s narrative

2. Power of Place: Creation of a community-based structure will allow each of Connecticut’s towns and cities to define their own programs and ideas about how they can engage their citizens; Commission will ensure the alignment between Connecticut’s 250th activities and those of the greater region and nation, building relevance and aligning the state with other areas

3. Doing History: Public must be invited to participate in the process of doing history; Inviting audiences to engage with the historical method can help them become more comfortable with the ambiguous, contested, and always-evolving nature of history; Focus on the role of Connecticut within the national narrative

4. For the Common Good: Discussions about our democracy and civic intuitions can help strengthen understanding, inspire action, and reveal ways that all of us can participate in and shape our democracy; Reconsider the origins of our government, democratic institutions, and broader civic life, and a chance to reflect on the ways we have changed them over time.

Here is where the hard work really begins. To some extent such conversations already occur. Think of the school board meetings with its calm debates over curriculum and books in the library. While it is a worthy goal to engage the public to do history and have such discussions, the challenge to actually have them is more problematical. Let us not forget that there were Tories and Patriots during the American Revolution anyway so it would be simplistic to think we can have a “Come let us reason together” moment in the towns and villages of the state and country today. And what is “the national narrative”? (Ending the Uncivil War: Creating a Shared National Narrative for the 21st Century  January 28, 2021). There is scarce agreement as to what constitutes the national narrative. Plus such discussions are planned for after a very contentious presidential election year that threatens to rip the social fabric to threads.

I applaud Connecticut for setting these goals but am frightened that the world of the Third Civil War will prevail.


Graphic by America 250.

As we approach the three year countdown to July 4, 2026, it is an appropriate time to provide an update on what had and has not been going on with American Revolution 250th. The last time I wrote about it was July 1, 2022 (Controversy at the United States Semiquincentennial Commission). Regrettably, it does not seem as if the situation is much improved since then judging by an advocacy notice I received on May 12, 2023, from the American Association for State and Local History AASLH). That organization that has been quite active in promoting the event to its members and interested history people.

AASLH Members and Friends:

As a valued member of the history community, we are reaching out to you to ask for your support in commemorating our nation’s upcoming 250th anniversary by asking your Members of Congress to join the Congressional America250 Caucus. We need your help to encourage Members of Congress to join this important caucus.

With the 250th just three years away, your efforts are urgently needed. We would like you to contact the members of your Congressional delegation and encourage them to join and support the activities of the America250 Caucus in the United States Congress. We have provided a draft email for your consideration below in the event it is helpful.

 As a member of the America250 Caucus, lawmakers will work together to commemorate this significant milestone in our nation’s history and promote national unity and civic engagement. The Caucus will provide a forum for members of Congress to collaborate on ways to engage their constituents, support local events and activities, support the work of history museums and other history organizations, and highlight the importance of our shared history.

 Please take a moment to contact your Congressional delegation and ask them to join the America250 Caucus.

 Thank you for your support in helping to commemorate America’s Semiquincentennial.

 Sample Email

 Dear Representative / Senator _______,

 I hope you’re doing well. On behalf of (Insert Organization Name), I respectfully request that Representative / Senator (Insert Name) join the bipartisan America250 Caucus, chaired by Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ). With the 250th anniversary of our nation’s founding rapidly approaching, we want to ensure that we do not miss out on the opportunity for Americans to learn and reflect on the themes and ideals that unite all of us, including liberty, freedom, and civic engagement. Please contact Laura Titus ( with Representative Robert Aderholt or Brad Korten ( with Representative Watson Coleman to join the caucus.

 Thank you for your consideration.

Reading between the lines, I perceive this plea as a recognition that all is not right with the world of the American Revolution 250th. There is a need to act at the federal level. Since the federal organization is geared towards Philadelphia on July 4, 2026, any funding to support events at the local level will need to be distributed well before then. All such funding will be through the state 250th organizations.


Drilling down from the national level, there are events in Virginia worthy of interest. One should keep in mind that it was Virginia which advertised on the AMC show Turn (AMC Mocks the Path through History August 28, 2016) about the spy network in New York (which did not advertise on the four-year series). In addition, I attended an online meeting about Virginia’s activities on the 250th and summarized the meeting in the blog The 250th Anniversary: A Commonwealth of Virginia Case Study February 1, 2021, over two years ago.

Now Virginia continues to move forward. It convened a meeting held in March which Johanna Yaun, the Orange County historian (full-time position) and chair of the Orange County 250th Commission. The following are excerpts from the report she wrote about the meeting.

A Common Cause for All: A Convening of States on the 250th Anniversary of the call for Committees of Correspondence A Signature Event of the Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission


The Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission invited representatives from across the Nation to participate in a three-day planning meeting of Semiquincentennial stakeholders. From March 10-12, 2023, attendees from 34 states met for “A Convening of States” to mark the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the call for Committees of Correspondence on March 12, 1773. After a reading of the 1773 resolution, state representatives affirmed a new resolution “of mutual support, collaboration, and partnership, signaling the beginning of the Semiquincentennial.” (Although we in New York State beg to differ since we declared the beginning of the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Golden Hill anniversary at Fraunces Tavern on January 19, 2020, See Post). The inclusion of delegates from many states made the ceremony particularly impactful.

These comments highlight the fact that the American Revolution already was underway 250 years ago. There are anniversary events which could be commemorated now. One also wonders why it was a state which convened the meeting and not the national commission. Actually one does not wonder – the federal commission is not functioning.

The pinnacle moment of the weekend was an announcement made by Virginia Senator Thomas K. Norment that the state government was investing $8 million dollars to support the 250th anniversaries and facilitating another $1 million in a donation from Dominion Energy for the same. These investments were made with the expectation that such an investment in civics resources would yield over $1.5 Billion in heritage tourism revenue and support more than 22,000 jobs. These estimates were based on the economic boosts seen during the 1607/2007 and 1619/2019 anniversary periods, focused on the founding of Historic Jamestown.

This is serious money. These comments reflect what was true at the meeting I attended online in 2021. Virginia is committed to making the anniversary a big deal. And like New York, Virginia knows that the story doesn’t cease with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It also shows that the state is prepared to commit resources to make the anniversary a success. The logical question then what is your state you doing besides waiting for the federal commission to get its act together and be relevant at least before its expiration in 2026.

With one third of the battles of the Revolutionary War taking place in New York State and 81 Revolutionary War museums in the state, many concentrated conveniently in the heavily touristed New York City, Long Island and Hudson River Valley region, this begs the question, why not us?

Some of the blame for this is on the shoulders of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission and non-profit arm America 250 who have failed to meet any tangible goals since their founding (and funding) in 2016. When America 250 dropped the bomb in January/February of 2023 that they had laid off most of their staff and were “embarking on an organizational realignment” which essentially pushed all responsibility to the individual states, the disparity between the prepared and the unprepared, widened. But as for New York State specifically, I’ll refrain from providing any insight while we wait (and hope) to see if Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget will address this issue by the end of the month.

But while New York State thus far waits, Virginia has stepped in to offer leadership and benefit from economic gain of providing the venue for stakeholders to convene. Hosted by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation at the Williamsburg Lodge, 300 public historians and government officials were treated to programming and social events aimed at fostering partnerships and communication on the eve of the commemorative period.

This deterioration at the federal level led to the letters from two New York State elected officials (future blog). It also shows that there will be no effort at the national level to craft a new national narrative for the 21st century. History organizations are not going to fill the void either.

President of the Association of State and Local History, John Dichtl, set the tone by presenting two opportunities that the Semiquincentennial period offers. The first is that by popularizing and showcasing “the full sweep of our shared history,” the Founding period can be used as a starting point to attach new meaning for people and groups who have advanced “towards justice” over the past 250 years. He mentioned that 86% of the America public agrees on fundamental ideas about National history and that a Semiquincentennial that both celebrates our strengths and addresses our fallacies is essential to fostering inclusion, relevance and belonging.

The second opportunity he highlighted is that this exploration of America at 250 is a chance to reinvigorate the history profession and bring new support to historical societies and museums. An interesting statistic that was presented was that 35-40% of all history organizations were created in 1966–1986 time frame, a decade before and a decade after the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1976. The hope is that the 250th will be another moment of reflection for the Nation and a recognition that we should never stop fighting over our past nor the direction of our future.

There are two problems not addressed in these comments by Dichtl as reported by Yaun:

1. The people who formed these new historical organizations after the Bicentennial are now up to 50 years older. Anyone involved in local non-profit volunteer organizations is aware of the trials and tribulations in attracting new members, finding people willing to serve on Boards and getting people to actually do something. Just think of the technological changes which have occurred since the Bicentennial – we are living in what may be considered science fiction times to the people of 1976 and who still are in charge.

2. The local history organizations are likely to focus on local events about what happened in their community and not the full sweep of our shared  national history. Quite possibly at the local level, if there is an effort to go beyond that there will be a replay of the current squabbles over 1619, CRT, and divisiveness. It will be interesting to see how Virginia spends the money it has allocated for the 250th.

Next, Susie Wilkening of Wilkening Consulting offered remarks on her demographic research and how it relates to 250th planning. She discussed intersections of patriotism and identity and looked at what concepts and words divide vs. unite likely museum-goers. She found common ground in that the majority of people expressed that “history is valued and important,” but that it needs “to be engaging” while still maintaining a relaxing tone. The majority of people “feel good about learning” but express that they prefer “hands-on, interactive, living history” to keep their interest.  Respondents ranged along a spectrum from wanting patriotic programming to focus on “the 3 F’s, food, fireworks, family” to a focus on critical thinking about the Nation’s strive for “a more perfect union…”

That last sentence is critical. While there are people and organizations that are concerned about the 250 year effort to strive for a more perfect union since the Revolution, many people are content with the Bicentennial approach particularly at the local level of patriotic food, family, fireworks and parades with nary a woke person in sight.

Yaun described the conference activities in the rest of her enewsletter. In the next blog I switch to the topic of education, both academic and k-12, highlighting Virginia.