The wheels are already in motion to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. A reminder of how the United States came about may be worthwhile for Americans after a very divisive presidential election.
The USA 250th Commission was created last July under a law signed by President Obama to coordinate anniversary activities at the local, state and national level.
One aim of the 250th commission is to inform how the events leading to 1776 are key in the development of our national heritage, individual liberty, representative government and equal and inalienable rights and had a “profound influence throughout the world.”
The lead up to 2026 comes at a troubled time for American democracy just like during the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976.
Instead of capping his political career by presiding over the Bicentennial, President Richard Nixon had resigned from office in 1974 to escape impeachment over Watergate scandal crimes. Top White House aides went to prison for assorted misdeeds. The question posed at the time by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was whether America was still a nation of laws.
We had an unelected president Gerald Ford and unelected vice president Nelson Rockefeller at the helm in 1976. Even so Americans celebrated July 4, 1976 with a parade of Tall Ships in NYC harbor and bell-ringing ceremonies and fireworks across the land.
The challenges facing our democracy in 2017 include but are not limited to:
The aftermath of a bitter presidential election with both major party candidates polling record-high unfavorable ratings.
Millions of citizens believing the American dream passed them by.
Increased questioning of the role of the Electoral College when it delivers a result different from the popular vote.
Efforts by a hostile foreign power to electronically hack the electronic communications of political parties.
An increasingly crude and coarse public discourse.
The emergence of a fact-free political environment.
A basic lack of understanding among many of how the nation’s democratic institutions work.
Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation played a major role in creating this new commission with a retrospective look. This could account for a requirement that the commission’s meetings are to be held at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Delaware, sponsored the enabling legislation. U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-PA and Pat Toomey, R-PA, and U.S. Reps. Robert Brady and Brendan Boyle, both D-Philadelphia, helped steer it to passage.
It’s not too early to start this 250th observance because the path to the Declaration and American Revolution was a long and tortuous one. Even during the Revolution, Americans were deeply divided about choosing between a new nation and the British Crown. Roughly one-third favored the Patriot Cause, one-third were Loyalists and one-third neutral.
To think that 1776 came out of the blue would be a mistake.
To take just one milestone on the road to Independence, by 1766 the British had imposed and repealed a tax on the official stamps affixed to legal documents, newspapers and pamphlets used by American colonists.
Great Britain’s need for new revenue to pay off war debt and the costs for security in North America led to Parliament passing the Stamp Tax in 1765. This was the first tax imposed directly on Americans in more than 150 years of colonial rule. One egregious provision was that violators would be tried before Admiralty Courts with no juries.
The tax sparked debate over taxation without representation, the convening of a Stamp Tax Congress in New York City and an effort to boycott British goods. Stamp tax collectors were attacked in escalating protests. The Stamp Tax was repealed in 1766 with pressure from British merchants.
But new taxes were on the way, including one levied in 1767, on imported tea. –-Robert Swift