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The Upcoming 250th Birthday of the United States – And Why It Matters to Public Service

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stephen R. Rolandi
August 28, 2023

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” —The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

This passage from America’s birth certificate forms part of our nation’s organic law, which can be defined as a system or body of laws that forms the foundation of a nation state. For the United States, there are four basic documents that comprise the American organic law:

  • The Declaration of Independence (1776)
  • The Articles of Confederation (1777)
  • Northwest Ordinance (1787)
  • S. Constitution (1787) and the Bill of Rights (1791)

Taken together, these documents not only provided the ideological foundations for the U.S. democratic republic, but also a foundation for the concept of popular sovereignty, i.e. that government exists to serve the people, and who elect representatives to express their will. Further, the Constitution outlines the basic blueprint for a governmental system that strives to balance individual freedoms and liberty with public order; constitutions also state limitations on governmental power and provide for a peaceful means by which that structure can be amended or modified in response to changing conditions.

I suspect that not too many Americans are aware that in a little less than three years—on July 4, 2026—our nation will mark the Semi-quincentennial (also called the Sester-centennial or Quarter Millennial) of the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

Indeed, the nation’s history and educational community has already begun planning to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States. The United States Semi-quincentennial Commission was established as Public Law (P.L.) 114-196 (2016) to plan and orchestrate the 250th Anniversary of the nation’s founding. The non-partisan commission is composed of 16 private citizens, 4 House members and 4 Senators, as well as 12 ex-officio members from all three branches of the Federal government and its independent agencies. To date, 38 states have established their own state-level commissions.    

Beyond celebrating the American Revolution, this “America250” commemoration is also an opportunity to share American history in ways that fully explore the diverse people and complex events of our nation’s past.

I believe that this celebration is also an opportunity to explore how public administration and public service have made its contributions to make this possible.     

The Declaration, it must be remembered, made a bolt assertion about human nature and natural rights. The principal author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, drew heavily upon the writings of political philosophers John Locke (1632-1704) and Thomas Paine (1736-1809) in making the claim that all men (later interpreted to mean all people) are created equal and had equal natural rights.

This assertion had profound implications for the American notion of liberty, and that all in society were thus equally free and independent to give their consent to create a free and representative form of government through voting and elections, which in turn, would result in formation of public policies beneficial to the nation.

So influenced by the Declaration of Independence, the framers of the American Constitution created a system of an equal rule of law for all in which they could enjoy their liberties. It equally protected the individual rights of all citizens and guaranteed due process. An important part of the Constitution was added with the passage of the first ten amendments, which we know as the Bill of Rights. The principle of equality thus protected the liberties of all citizens to create a just society.

As many historians have noted, the principle of equality has powerfully stood at the core of American government for over two centuries. The continuing challenges and debates over that principle have animated American deliberations about the national character of their free government and free society throughout that history and will continue to do so.

The Constitution was built upon the legacy of the Declaration of Independence, and that legacy is dependent upon public administration and public servants cognizant of these democratic principles. So, as we begin to plan to commemorate the 250th anniversary of America’s founding, let us reflect on our history and ensure that we continue to make progress toward a more just society within the rule of law.


Persons interested in the work of “America250” and who may wish to be involved in their communities in the planning and lead-up to the celebrations being planned for 2026 may wish to contact the Commission directly at its website: https://america250.org; e-mail: [email protected]; phone: 202.871.1776. The Commission’s mailing address is: America 250 Foundation, 1663 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA. 22314. For an in-depth analysis of the Declaration of Independence, readers may find Pauline Maier’s American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (Knopf, 1997) fascinating reading.

Author: Stephen R. Rolandi retired in 2015 after serving with the State and City of New York. He holds BA and MPA degrees from New York University, and studied law at Brooklyn Law School. He teaches public finance and management as an Adjunct Professor of Public Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) and Pace University. Professor Rolandi is a Trustee of NECoPA; President-emeritus of ASPA’s New York Metropolitan Chapter and past Senior National Council Representative. He has  served  on many  association boards, and is a frequent guest commentator on  public affairs and political issues affecting the nation and New York State.

 You can reach him at: [email protected] or [email protected] or  914.441.3399 or 212.237.8000.

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