Spirit of 76

the usa’s bicentennial celebration & the redeclaration of america. book manuscript in progress.

The celebrations of the 1976 US Bicentennial marked a key transition in post-Vietnam War American life. From the much-contested American Revolution Bicentennial Commission to the passage of legislature such as the American Folklife Act to culture industry productions and sophisticated artistic reflections to myriad local commemorations to international recognition from abroad, Americans and others around the world turned to the founding of the United States to reckon with the difficulties of the 1970s and the possibilities of the future as the twenty-first century beckoned on the horizon.

In ways that have not yet been recognized, the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations were the opening shot in what later got called the “Culture Wars.” A moment of strange combinations of culture and politics, tacky kitsch and high-minded seriousness, pop and policy, the Bicentennial reminds us that history happens both in the halls of power and in the streets. So too, it occurs both through intense mediation and by people’s direct actions.

Ceremony matters, and the ceremonies of the 1976 US Bicentennial reshaped the political and social landscape of the nation in ways that continue to reverberate today. In contemporary activities ranging from the 1619 Project to interpretations of Constitutional law to the very nature and purpose of the government itself, we can discern not only the direct influence of the original founding of the United States of America, but also the lasting effects of the “redeclaration” of the nation two hundred years later.

Building on excellent scholarship by Tammy S. Gordon, M. J. Rymsza-Pawlowska, and others while also conducting additional archival research, this book reveals how the United States re-narrated its national story through the rituals of 1976. As the liberal consensus of the decades after World War II ended, a new and far more complicated USA began to parade forward.