While the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States is still more than eight years away, the federal government and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are deep into planning how to celebrate the birth of the nation.
At the federal level, a law was enacted in 2016 to form the Semiquincentennial Commission, a group of eight members of Congress (four from the House and four from the Senate), 16 private citizens, and nine ex officio federal officers responsible for making recommendations to the Congress and President about how best to commemorate the Revolutionary War and the whole of US history leading to the 250th anniversary.
The commission has colloquially been dubbed the “USA250 Commission” or “USA250.”
Chairman Andrew Hohns recently said the celebration will help bring the country closer together through a vision of shared history and experience.
“These are the substantive projects of the semiquincentennial: to renew and re-stitch together that important civic fabric that compels each of us to take such an active participation in our government,” he said.
“On top of all of that, there’s the wonderful infrastructure, there’s the great celebration and there’s the opportunity to really enjoy ourselves with all of the wonderful accomplishments of our forebears and set an inspirational course for our children as they work to contribute themselves and future generations to the ongoing American project.”
Continuing a precedent of setting firsts in American history, Pennsylvania is also on track to become the first state to begin the formal process of forming its own state commission to help with USA250 projects.
The legislation forming the commission, House Bill 1793, has been co-prime sponsored by Rep. Alex Charlton (R-Delaware) and Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia).
In October, the legislation unanimously passed out of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee and is slated for final approval by the full House as soon as the legislature returns to session in mid-November.
Charlton stated at a recent news conference on the legislation that it is important that Pennsylvania take this first step given the commonwealth’s unique role in the founding of the United States.
“As the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, it is extremely important for us to recognize Pennsylvania’s integral role in the founding of the United States and the impacts of its people on the nation’s past, present, and future,” he said. “The Pennsylvania commission will be charged with the duties of planning, encouraging, developing and coordinating Pennsylvania’s commemoration of the 250th Anniversary. Our country’s semiquincentennial will be a motivation for all Americans and Pennsylvanians to engage in a shared undertaking of national unity and remembering what unites us and has united us as United States citizens while aiming for tomorrow as better individuals, families, communities and a nation as a whole.”
Solomon remarked on Pennsylvania’s lead role in the centennial and bicentennial celebrations and said it is his hope that, through the commission, Pennsylvania can adequately prepare itself and once again take a primary role in celebrating an important national birthday.
“What this bill calls for is a dialogue through all 67 counties, engaging every Pennsylvanian on what infrastructure projects you think you need to begin the welcoming of our nation to Pennsylvania. In particular, how are we going to best embrace our past, talk about our present and chart our course for the future,” he said. “This commission is going to be the vehicle to get that done as we move toward 2026.”
Should the Pennsylvania commission legislation be enacted, it will be comprised of two members of the state House of Representatives, two members from the state Senate, 20 private citizens (four each appointed by the governor and four legislative caucuses), and 10 ex officio non-voting members from various areas of state government.
A chairperson will be designated by the governor from the group of private citizens.
Within a year of its forming, the commission is to present a detailed report to the governor and General Assembly concerning its plans.
While commission members are not entitled to a salary or enrollment in the state pension system, the chairperson – with approval from the commission – may appoint staff, including an executive director.
The commission will be dissolved on Dec. 31, 2027.
Jason Gottesman is the Harrisburg Bureau Chief of The PLS Reporter, a news website dedicated to covering Pennsylvania’s government.