Can America Handle a 250th Anniversary?Historians in the News
tags: American Revolution, Independence Day, July 4, public history, Semiquincentennial
For those planning the United States’ Semiquincentennial in 2026, the past few years have sometimes felt like one long winter at Valley Forge.
They’ve had to battle public apathy toward the impending 250th anniversary of American independence, which has hardly been helped by the false starts, recriminations and lawsuits plaguing the federal commission charged with coordinating the celebration.
And then there’s the tongue-twisting word itself, which has left more than a few people puzzling over not just what a semiquincentennial is, but how the heck you say it.
Still, as July 4 approaches, the effort is stepping into overdrive, as planners hit what some wryly call the annual panic button. On Tuesday, the rebooted United States Semiquincentennial Commission, also known as America250, will roll out a public engagement campaign at American Family Field in Milwaukee, where the Chicago Cubs will face the hometown Brewers. And so far, at least 33 states have created commissions, while institutions across the country are steaming ahead with plans for exhibitions and events of their own.
Across the country, there’s a sense of excitement and cautious optimism, along with no small amount of worry over how to create a unifying commemoration at a moment when fighting about American history seems to be the real national pastime.
“The effort to do inclusive history is bumping up against this other view of history, which is exclusive, exclusionary, simplistic and whitewashed,” said John Dichtl, the president and chief executive of the American Association for State and Local History. And now it’s all coming together, he said, “in a ferocious and fascinating way.”
Partisan political battles have yet to embroil Semiquincentennial planning specifically. “But as we talk to people,” Dichtl said, “the No. 1 thing they want is more help navigating these times, which are probably only going to get worse.”
In May, unease ran through the historical community when former President Donald J. Trump released a campaign video pledging to hold a yearlong “Salute to America 250,” including a “Great American State Fair” with pavilions from all 50 states, nationwide high school sports competitions and the construction of his proposed “National Garden of American Heroes.”