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A Look Back at “A Common Cause to All” 2024

Earlier this month, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, in conjunction with the Virginia American Revolution 250 Commission (VA250), hosted the second edition of “A Common Cause to All,” a convening of delegates from across the country to continue planning commemorations for America’s 250th birthday in 2026.

National Constitution Center President Jeffrey Rosen

Set against the backdrop of Colonial Williamsburg's rich history, over 400 attendees from 37 states and over 40 Virginia localities joined from March 18 to 20 to continue the important work taking place nationwide to mark America’s 250th. Attendees heard from illustrious speakers such as Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin; Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President & CEO Cliff Fleet; NBC journalist Harry Smith; retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice John Charles Thomas; filmmaker Sarah Botstein; PBS CEO Paul Kerger; America250 Chair Rosie Rios; Harvard University Professor Dr. Danielle Allen; Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and VA250 Board Chair Carly Fiorina; Smithsonian Institution Under Secretary for Museums and Culture Kevin Gover; and National Constitution Center President Jeffrey Rosen.

Fireside Chat: Reaching Diverse And Underserved Communities. Pictured left to right Christy Coleman, Executive Director, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Ashley Jordan, President & CEO, African American Museum in Philadelphia. Marvin-Alonzo Greer, Lead Historical Interpretation & Community Engagement Officer, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Noelle Trent, President & CEO, Museum of African American History and Culture.

The event began on Monday evening, as attendees arrive in Colonial Williamsburg. During Monday evening’s opening dinner, Cliff Fleet set the stage for the remainder of the event by addressing our common cause, discussing the significance of the Declaration of Independence as an important, yet flawed document that still impacts American history:

“For the first time in the history of mankind, people said ‘I’m going to take the crown of sovereignty . . . and I’m going to put it on the head of the people. And the people will then create a government to protect the rights.’ It was the embodiment of enlightenment thinking, and we have the knowledge that this work was terribly and tragically incomplete, and we have been on a journey as Americans ever since to realize the ideals that were created and embodied in the Declaration of Independence. That work is a journey that continues, which is why we formed our constitution to say ‘in order to form a more perfect union’ not ‘a perfect union.’”

“What virtue is there in telling our children that it was an easy trip to make America what it was today?”

The Honorable Judge John Charles Thomas

The importance of telling a complete story of American history was echoed in Tuesday morning’s keynote address by retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice John Charles Thomas: “There’s discussion sometimes about the question of whether we ought to tell the unvarnished truth of America, or whether we should plaster over where we came from and what we did, and I want to say to you this: ‘What virtue is there in telling our children that it was an easy trip to make America what it was today?’ . . . Isn’t the story much more magnificent when we say that we started with slavery? We started with pain and suffering? We started with indentured servitude? We started with violence and anger, and we evolved into what we are. But to do it, it took a whole lot.”

As attendees took in inspirational talks from speakers spanning the tapestry of American history and society, conversation often came back to our common cause, engaging Americans from all walks of life in reflection about our past and inspiring them to carry on the mantle of the American movement, in 2026 and beyond. Carly Fiorina encapsulated this mission:

“Our semiquincentennial movement will reconnect Americans to who we are and where we come from. We will re-engage Americans who do not think our founding ideals or system of government had anything to do with them. We will remind our fellow citizens what it means to be an American. We will reinspire Americans to take on the privilege of citizenship. Together we will continue the great work necessary to form a more perfect union because we will remember how extraordinarily fortunate we are to be Americans. This is our common cause. This is our worthy purpose.”

And how do we galvanize the next generations of Americans? In the words of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson, we must look back in order to move forward: “I say that history is the greatest subject that man might study. . . . History is the greatest production of mankind’s understanding.”

Many attendees echoed the theme of educating Americans by telling a full story of their history. In the words of Caroline Klibanoff, the Executive Director of Made By Us, “the most important thing is to ensure that the 250th is about all of the past 250 years and even indeed before that time, as well as the next chapter that’s to come. So making sure that this is a forward-looking moment for young people to take part in commemorating our nation’s history and future.”

Fireside Chat: Multistate Collaboration for 250th Programs Nationwide. Pictured left to right Cheryl Wilson, Executive Director, VA250 Commission. Jonathan Lane, Executive Director, Massachusetts Revolution 250. Jonah Spivak, Communications Coordinator, Town of Bennington, Vermont. Kevin Hampton, Curator of History, The Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

In the spirit of Jefferson, we wrapped up "A Common Cause to All" by commemorating another pivotal moment in American history that took place 250 years ago, in May 1774: the 250th anniversary of the dissolution of the House of Burgesses by Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore, in response to support by revolutionary burgesses in Virginia for their fellow revolutionaries in Massachusetts after the Boston Tea Party. Just as this event sparked unity among revolutionary colonists, today, 250 years later, we join again in common cause to ensure all Americans are part of a thorough exploration of our country's past, present, and future.

Interpreter Chris Weidman, portraying Lord Dunmore, exists his carriage at the Capitol during the closing event, A Shock of Electricity.

This is a mission that The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation takes seriously, and in the years leading up to 2026, it is one that will only become more important. We are proud to join with VA250 to host “A Common Cause to All” and explore America’s history and future, and look forward to continuing that work in the years to come.