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1776 (musical)

Original Production Logo
Music Sherman Edwards
Lyrics Sherman Edwards
Book Peter Stone
Productions 1969 Broadway
1997 Broadway revival
Awards Tony Award for Best Musical

1776 is a musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. The story is based on the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It dramatizes the efforts of John Adams to persuade his colleagues to vote for American independence and to sign the document.

It premiered on Broadway in 1969, earning warm reviews, and ran for 1,217 performances. The production was nominated for five Tony Awards and won three, including the Tony Award for Best Musical. In 1972 it was made into the film also titled 1776. It was revived on Broadway in 1997.


  • History 1
  • Synopsis 2
    • Scene One 2.1
    • Scene Two 2.2
    • Scene Three 2.3
    • Scene Four 2.4
    • Scene Five 2.5
    • Scene Six 2.6
    • Scene Seven 2.7
  • Productions 3
  • Principal characters and original cast 4
  • Music 5
    • Act I 5.1
    • Act II 5.2
  • Dramatic analysis 6
  • Historical accuracy 7
  • Critical reception 8
  • Recordings 9
  • Awards and nominations 10
    • Original Broadway production 10.1
    • 1997 Broadway revival 10.2
  • Film adaptation 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


In 1926, Rodgers and Hart had written a musical about the American Revolution, called Dearest Enemy.[1] Additionally, in 1950, a musical about the Revolution had been presented on Broadway, titled Arms and the Girl, with music by Morton Gould, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and a book by Herbert Fields, Dorothy Fields, and Rouben Mamoulian, the show's director. [2]

Sherman Edwards, a writer of pop songs with several top ten hits in the late fifties and early sixties, spent several years developing lyrics and libretto for a musical based on the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Edwards recounted that, "I wanted to show [the founding fathers] at their outermost limits. These men were the cream of their colonies... They disagreed and fought with each other. But they understood commitment, and though they fought, they fought affirmatively."[3] Producer Stuart Ostrow recommended that librettist Peter Stone collaborate with Edwards on the book of the musical. Stone recalled,
The minute you heard ["Sit Down, John"], you knew what the whole show was.... You knew immediately that John Adams and the others were not going to be treated as gods, or cardboard characters, chopping down cherry trees and flying kites with strings and keys on them. It had this very affectionate familiarity; it wasn't reverential.[3]
Adams, the outspoken delegate from Massachusetts, was chosen as the central character, and his quest to persuade all thirteen colonies to vote for independence became the central conflict. Stone confined nearly all of the action to Independence Hall and the debate among the delegates, featuring only two female characters, Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson, in the entire musical.[3][4] After tryouts in New Haven and Washington, the show opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on March 16, 1969. Peter Hunt, previously known as a lighting designer, directed.[5]


Scene One

On May 8, 1776, in Philadelphia, as the Second Continental Congress proceeds with its business. John Adams, the widely disliked delegate from Massachusetts, is frustrated, because none of his proposals on independence have been debated on by congress. The other delegates, implore him to stop demanding independence (Sit Down, John).

Adams' response is that Congress has done nothing for the last year but waste time (Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve). He reads the latest missive to his loving wife Abigail, who appears in his imagination. He asks if she and the other women are making saltpeter for the war effort but she ignores him and states the women have a more urgent problem: no straight pins. They bicker about it until Adams gives in and they pledge their love to each other (Till Then).

Scene Two

Later that day, Adams finds delegate Benjamin Franklin outside. Adams bemoans the failure of his arguments for independence. Franklin suggests that a resolution for independence would have more success if proposed by someone else. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia enters, having been summoned by Franklin. The cocky Lee crows that he is the best man to propose the resolution. Adams has reservations, but Lee is convinced he cannot fail, as a member of the oldest and most glorious family in America: The Lees (The Lees of Old Virginia). He is prepared to ask the Virginia House of Burgesses to authorize him to offer a pro-independence resolution.

Scene Three

June 7, 1776. Franklin and Adams enter, and the delegates, along with the President of Congress, John Hancock, and the Secretary, Charles Thomson, take their places. Hancock gavels the 380th meeting of the Congress to order.

The entire New Jersey delegation is absent. Thomas Jefferson, a young delegate from Virginia, announces that he is leaving for Virginia that night to visit his wife. Soon after Hancock opens the floor to new resolutions, Richard Henry Lee canters into the chamber, having finally returned from Virginia. Lee reads his resolution, but John Dickinson of Pennsylvania moves to indefinitely postpone the question of independence. A vote is taken. Five colonies vote in favor of debate. Six vote to postpone indefinitely and thus kill the proposal.

The New Jersey delegate arrives, and the vote now stands at six for independence and six against (with New York abstaining "courteously"), and Adams reminds Hancock (who supports independence) of his privilege as president to break all ties. Dickinson then moves that any vote for independence must pass unanimously on the grounds that "no colony [may] be torn from its mother country without its own consent." The vote produces the same tie, which Hancock breaks by unexpectedly voting for unanimity (prompting an angry outburst from Adams). He reasons that without unanimity, any colony voting against independence would be forced to fight on England's side, setting brother against brother.

Adams, thinking fast, calls for a postponement of the vote on independence, expressing the need for a declaration defining the reasons for independence. Franklin seconds Adams, but when asked why such a declaration should be written, both are lost for words until Thomas Jefferson provides them himself: "to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent." The vote on postponement is called, producing yet another tie, with New York abstaining "courteously" yet again. Hancock breaks the tie by voting in favor of postponement. He appoints a committee of Adams, Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, and Jefferson to draft the declaration. Hancock adjourns the session over Jefferson's complaints that he must go home to his wife.

The Committee of Five argues about who should write the declaration ("But, Mr. Adams"). Adams declines Franklin's suggestion that he do so. Adams asks each of the others, in turn, to be the drafter, but each demurs: Franklin argues that he is not a political writer, only a satirist; Sherman claims that he is not a writer at all, but "a simple cobbler from Connecticut"; and Livingston must return to New York to celebrate the birth of his son.

All eyes then turn to Jefferson. Jefferson tries to wriggle out of the responsibility, pleading that he has not seen his wife in six months. Adams, unmoved by Jefferson's arguments (as he, too, misses his own wife), quotes a passage of Jefferson's Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, bluntly telling Jefferson that he is the best writer in Congress. Jefferson accepts the duty of drafting the document.

Scene Four

A week later, Adams and Franklin visit Jefferson to see how the work is coming along. Jefferson has spent the week moping, prompting a sharp rebuke by Adams, which is flatly rebuffed by Jefferson. Finally, Jefferson is brightened when his beloved wife Martha enters (Adams has sent for her). The two older gentlemen leave the young lovers in peace. Adams, alone, again exchanges letters with his wife Abigail. They pledge each other to love each other eternally (Yours, Yours, Yours). Martha finally appears when Franklin and Adams return the next morning, and the two gentlemen ask her how a man as silent as Jefferson won a woman as lovely as she. She tells them that she loves him because of his musical talent (He Plays the Violin).

Scene Five

On June 22, 1776, Congress has reconvened. By now, Adams is worrying and begins trying to win over some of the states, sending James Wilson of Pennsylvania, while himself trying to convince Samuel Chase of Maryland.

The remaining delegates in favor of independence also leave the chamber. Alone with his fellow conservatives for the first time, Dickinson leads them in a George Washington warning them of British advances on Philadelphia; however these warnings fall on deaf ears.

After the dance, the remaining delegates depart, leaving Andrew McNair (the custodian), the courier, and a workman in the chamber. The workman asks the courier if he has seen any fighting and the courier replies that his two closest friends were killed on the same day at Lexington. He describes the final thoughts of a dying young man as his mother searches for his body ("Momma, Look Sharp").

Scene Six

Jefferson is outside the chamber as Mr. Thomson, the secretary, reads the declaration to Congress. Adams and Franklin meet him delightedly: an exhibition of shooting by the Continental Army has convinced Samuel Chase, and Maryland will vote in favor of independence. They congratulate Jefferson on the excellence of the document, and Franklin compares the creation of this new country to the hatching of a bird (The Egg). This leads the trio to debate which bird is breaking out of its metaphorical shell and would best represent America. Franklin tries to coax them into choosing the turkey, and Jefferson went about suggesting the dove, but the three settle on the eagle, as insisted upon by Adams.

Scene Seven

On June 28, 1776, Hancock asks if there are any alterations to be offered to the Declaration of Independence, leading many delegates to voice suggestions. Jefferson acquiesces to each recommendation, much to Adams's consternation, until Dickinson demands the removal of a phrase calling the King a tyrant. Jefferson refuses, stating that "the King is a tyrant whether we say so or not. We might as well say so." When Thomson comments that he has already scratched the word out, Jefferson orders him to "scratch it back in." When one delegate wants references to Parliament removed for fear of offending possible friends in that body, an exasperated Adams exclaims "This is a revolution, damn it! We're going to have to offend somebody!"

saltpetre from her and other Massachusetts ladies) bolsters his commitment.

Re-reading the dispatch from Washington, Adams, now alone in the chamber, echoes his words, "Is Anybody There?" Discouraged but determined, Adams declares his vision of his new country: "Through all the gloom, through all the doom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!" Dr.

It is now July 2, 1776. The delegates slowly return to the chamber, including Caesar Rodney of Delaware, who had earlier left Congress due to poor health. Hancock calls for the vote on the Lee Resolution. Thomson calls on each delegation for its vote. Pennsylvania passes on the first call, but the rest of the northern and middle colonies (save New York, which, with some self-disgust, again abstains "courteously") vote "yea". When the vote reaches South Carolina, Rutledge again demands the removal of the slavery clause as the condition of the "yea" votes from the Carolinas. Franklin pleads with Adams to remove the clause ("First things first, John ... Independence. America. If we don't secure that, what difference will the rest make?") and Adams turns to Jefferson. Jefferson reluctantly crosses the chamber and scratches out the clause himself. Rutledge and the Carolinas vote "yea", as does Georgia.

Pennsylvania's vote, which is the last vote needed to obtain the required unanimous approval, is called again, Dickinson declares that "Pennsylvania votes...", only to be stopped by Franklin who asks Hancock to poll the members of the delegation individually. Franklin votes "yea" and Dickinson "nay", leaving the swing vote to Wilson, who normally adheres to Dickinson. Seeing his hesitancy, Dickinson tries to entice him: "Come now, James ... the issue is clear." Franklin remarks that "most issues are clear when someone else has to decide them", and Adams mercilessly adds that "it would be a pity for a man [Wilson] who has handed down hundreds of wise decisions from the bench to be remembered for the one unwise decision he made in Congress." Wilson doesn't want to be remembered as "the man who prevented American independence" and votes "yea". The motion is passed.

Hancock suggests that no man be allowed to sit in Congress without affixing his signature to the Declaration. Dickinson announces that he cannot in good conscience sign such a document and still hopes for reconciliation with England. However, he resolves to join the army to fight for and defend the new nation. Adams leads the Congress in a salute to Dickinson as he leaves the chamber.

In the book of the musical, Peter Stone referred to this famous engraving (by Edward Savage and Robert Edge Pine) as a reference for how the actors should pose in the final moment of the play.

Hancock leads the delegates in signing the Declaration, but is interrupted by the courier with another dispatch from Washington, "Commander of the Army of the United Colonies ... of the United States of America." He reports that preparations for the Battle of New York are under way, but expresses concern about America's badly outnumbered and under-trained troops. Washington's note to Lewis Morris that his estates have been destroyed but that his family has been taken to safety emboldens Morris to state that he will sign the Declaration, despite the lack of instructions from the New York legislature, saying, "To Hell with New York. I'll sign it anyway." New York's vote is moved into the "yea" column.

On the evening of July 4, 1776, McNair rings the Liberty Bell in the background as Thomson calls each of the delegates to sign their names on the Declaration of Independence. The delegates freeze in position as the Liberty Bell rings to a fevered pitch.


After out-of-town tryouts, the original Broadway production opened on Broadway on March 16, 1969 at the 46th Street Theatre (now the Richard Rodgers Theatre)[6] and closed on February 13, 1972, after 1,217 performances. In its three-year run, it played in three different theatres: the 46th Street, the St. James Theatre (1970) and, finally, the Majestic Theatre (1971).[7] The principal cast included William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Paul Hecht, Clifford David, Ronald Holgate, David Ford, Virginia Vestoff and Ken Howard.[6][7] Rex Everhart, who was Da Silva's understudy, replaced him on the original Broadway cast album after Da Silva suffered a mild heart attack, which required him to leave the show temporarily. Betty Buckley made her Broadway debut as Martha Jefferson in the original stage production.[8] Clifford David left the production soon after opening. He was replaced as Rutledge by David Cryer who was in turn replaced by John Cullum. Cullum had been the creative team's first choice for Rutledge and indeed, his performance was deemed so iconic that he became one of the few Broadway replacements in history to recreate his role on film. (Cullum was succeeded in the Broadway production by Paul-David Richards.)

The musical toured for two years in the U.S. and was given a London production, opening on June 16, 1970 at the New Theatre. The production starred Lewis Fiander as Adams, Vivienne Ross as Abigail Adams, Ronald Radd, Bernard Lloyd, David Kernan as Rutledge, John Quentin as Jefferson and Cheryl Kennedy as Martha Jefferson.[1]

1776 was revived by the

  • Official Homepage of 1776 the musical
  • 1776 at the Internet Broadway Database
  • 1776 (revival) at the Internet Broadway Database
  • 1776 at the Music Theatre International website
  • review of stage version and CDRational Magic
  • Classroom Study Integrating Musical Theatre in the classroom, JoAnne Freed
  • 1776 music tracks on Masterworks Broadway

External links

  • Stone, Peter, and Sherman Edwards. 1776: A Musical Play. New York: Viking Press, 1970. ISBN 0-670-63657-6.
  • Bloom, Ken and Vlastnik, Frank. Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of all Time. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2004. ISBN 1-57912-390-2
  • Kantor, Michael and Maslon, Laurence. Broadway: The American Musical. New York: Bullfinch Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8212-2905-2
  1. ^ a b Green, Stanley. "Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, pp. 373–74. Jefferson, N.C.: Da Capo Press, 1980. ISBN 0-306-80113-2
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c Kantor and Maslon, pp. 328-49
  4. ^ Bloom and Vlastnik, pp. 285
  5. ^ 2008 interview of Hunt
  6. ^ a b c Barnes, Clive. "Theater: Spirited '1776'; Founding Fathers' Tale Is a Happy Musical (article preview)" review of the original productionNew York Times1969 New York Times, March 17, 1969
  7. ^ a b "Listing, '1776' " InternetBroadwayDatabase, accessed June 8, 2011
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Bloom, Linda."CurtainUp Review, '1776'", accessed June 8, 2011
  10. ^ a b "Listing, '1776' revival" InternetBroadwayDatabase, accessed June 8, 2011
  11. ^
  12. ^ Peter C. Rollins, ed., The Columbia Companion to American History on Film (Columbia University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-231-11222-X), p. 154.
  13. ^ Stone and Edwards, pp. 153–65, describing the play's historical basis and dramatic license.
  14. ^ a b Stone and Edwards, p. 158.
  15. ^ Letter from Adams to Timothy Pickering, 1822. Adams also described himself as "obnoxious" in his Autobiography, written in 1805.
  16. ^ McCullough, David. John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), pp. 119–20.
  17. ^ Wills, Garry. Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (New York: Doubleday, 1978), pp. 349–50.
  18. ^ a b Stone and Edwards, p. 162.
  19. ^ Stone and Edwards, p. 161.
  20. ^ "Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." Edmund Burke, Select Works of Edmund Burke. A New Imprint of the Payne Edition. Foreword and Biographical Note by Francis Canavan (Indianapolis: :Liberty Fund, 1999). Vol. 4. Chapter: Speech to the Electors of Bristol, Accessed from on 2010-04-15.
  21. ^ Jack Rakove: The Patriot Who Refused to Sign the Declaration of Independence,
  22. ^
  23. ^ See comparison of First Draft of Declaration of Independence versus final version at: (The paragraph in question begins with "He has waged cruel War".)
  24. ^ The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: a Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson (1900) by Thomas Jefferson, edited by John P. Foley, p. 246
  25. ^ In the 19th Century, Rutledge was routinely included in volumes of biographies of American statesmen. Invariably, each capsule biography of Rutledge points out that nothing is known of what he said or did during the Continental Congress, due to the fact that the Congress was conducted in closed session and its members had made a pact of secrecy. The 19th Century biographers pointed to no letters or memoirs in which Rutledge's participation was specified. See, e.g. (there are many others), Lives of the Presidents of the United States by Robert W. Lincoln (1836), p. 390; Sanderson's Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1846) by John Sanderson and Robert Taylor Conrad, p. 351; The United States Manual of Biography and History by James V. Marshall (1856), p. 115; An Outline of the Political and Social Life of George Washington, Volume 2 (1895) by James Tyson, p. 339. There is simply no way to know what Rutledge did or did not say in regard to Jefferson's complaint about the King's freeing of slaves and veto of slave tariffs.
  26. ^ Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003).
  27. ^ James Wilson: Founding Father, Charles Page Smith, 1956
  28. ^ John Dickinson, 1 July 1776, as cited in
  29. ^ 'Old Family Letters',
  30. ^ review of the original productionNew York Daily News
  31. ^ reviewNew York PostOriginal
  32. ^ "1968-1969 15th Drama Desk Awards", accessed June 8, 2011
  33. ^ Mandelbaum, Ken.The Insider
  34. ^ "1997-1998 44th Drama Desk Awards", accessed June 8, 2011
  35. ^


A Director's Cut of the original film has been released in DVD. Both the look and sound of the original film have been improved through modern technology. Many cuts to the original film by the producer Jack Warner have been restored, including the song "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men". Musical underscoring has been removed from several scenes without songs in order to strengthen the focus on dialogue. Bonus material includes commentary by Director Peter Hunt and by Peter Stone, the book/screen writer. Among other topics, they discuss artistic liberties and anachronisms were used to dramatize the events.

The 1972 film version of 1776 was created by the same team responsible for the musical. Ostrow produced, Hunt directed and Stone wrote the screenplay. The production featured William Daniels as Adams, Ken Howard as Jefferson, Howard Da Silva as Franklin, John Cullum as Edward Rutledge, Ron Holgate as Richard Henry Lee, and Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams, all of whom had performed the roles on Broadway. The supporting cast was also mostly recruited from the Broadway production. The principal exceptions were Donald Madden and Blythe Danner, who took the roles of John Dickinson and Martha Jefferson.[35]

Film adaptation

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1998 Tony Award Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Gregg Edelman Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Scott Ellis Nominated
Drama Desk Award[34] Outstanding Revival of a Musical Won
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Brent Spiner Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical Gregg Edelman Won
Outstanding Director of a Musical Scott Ellis Nominated

1997 Broadway revival

(Note: William Daniels, who starred as John Adams, was ruled ineligible for the Best Actor nomination because his name was not billed above the title of the show; he was nominated for Best Featured Actor, but refused the nomination.[33])

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1969 Tony Award Best Musical Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Ron Holgate Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Virginia Vestoff Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Peter Hunt Won
Best Scenic Design Jo Mielziner Nominated
Drama Desk Award[32] Outstanding Book of a Musical Peter Stone Won
Outstanding Design Patricia Zipprodt Won
Theatre World Award Ken Howard Won

Original Broadway production

Awards and nominations

  • Original Broadway cast (1969), available on LP and CD with Rex Everhart as Ben Franklin because of Howard da Silva's ill health at the time of recording.
  • Original London cast (1970), available on LP
  • British studio cast (1970), available on LP (Marble Arch MALS-1327)
  • Original motion picture soundtrack (1972), available on LP
  • Studio cast (The Ray Bloch Singers) (date unknown), available on LP
  • Broadway revival cast (1997), available on CD

Notable recordings of the musical have included:


In this cynical age, it requires courage as well as enterprise to do a musical play that simply deals with the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And 1776... makes no attempt to be satirical or wander off into modern bypaths. But the rewards of this confidence reposed in the bold conception were abundant. The result is a brilliant and remarkably moving work of theatrical art... it is Mr. Daniels' John Adams who dominates the evening, as he did the Congress. Peter Hunt's direction, the choreography of Onna White, and the setting by Jo Mielziner are just right.[31]
noted, New York PostThe
This is by no means a historical tract or a sermon on the birth of this nation. It is warm with a life of its own; it is funny, it is moving... Often, as I sat enchanted in my seat, it reminded me of Gilbert and Sullivan in its amused regard of human frailties.... The songs and lyrics are, as I have indicated, remarkably original.[30]
wrote, New York Daily NewsJohn Chapman of the
On the face of it, few historical incidents seem more unlikely to spawn a Broadway musical than that solemn moment in the history of mankind, the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Yet 1776... most handsomely demonstrated that people who merely go 'on the face of it' are occasionally outrageously wrong.... [1776] is a most striking, most gripping musical. I recommend it without reservation. It makes even an Englishman's heart beat faster... the characters are most unusually full... for Mr. Stone's book is literate, urbane and, on occasion, very amusing.... William Daniels has given many persuasive performances in the past, but nothing, I think, can have been so effective as his John Adams here. This is a beautiful mixture of pride, ambition, an almost priggish sense of justice and yet – the saving grace of the character – an ironic self-awareness.[6]
wrote, New York Times of the Clive BarnesIn his review of the original 1969 production,

Critical reception

In both the play and the film, John Adams sarcastically predicts that Benjamin Franklin will receive from posterity too great a share of credit for the Revolution. "Franklin smote the ground and out sprang—George Washington.. Fully grown, and on his horse. Franklin then electrified them with his magnificent lightning rod and the three of them—Franklin, Washington, and the horse—conducted the entire Revolution all by themselves." Adams did make a similar comment about Franklin in April 1790, just after Franklin's death, although the mention of the horse was a humorous twist added by the authors of the musical.[29]

The phrase "We are about to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper", placed in the mouth of John Hancock, was actually stated by John Dickinson ("Others strenuously assert...we ought to brave the Storm in a Skiff made of Paper.") [28] in his arguments against independence.

James Wilson is portrayed as subordinating himself to Dickinson's opposition to independence, only changing his vote so that he would not be remembered unfavorably. In fact, Wilson was considered one of the leading thinkers behind the American cause, consistently supporting and arguing for independence, although he would not cast his vote until his district had been caucused.[27]

Thomas Jefferson is depicted as saying that he has resolved to free his slaves, something he did not do, except for a few slaves freed after his death 50 years later. Franklin claims that he is the founder of an abolitionist organization, but the real Franklin did not become an abolitionist until after the American Revolution, becoming president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1785.[26]

The musical claims that [24] that is the limit of known information about opposition to the clause. Rutledge was a delegate from South Carolina, but there is not one item of evidence in the historical record that he played any part—much less that of leader—in the opposition to the clause.[25]

The musical also deviates from history in its portrayal of attitudes about slavery. In 1776, after a dramatic debate over slavery, the southern delegates walk out in protest of the Declaration's denunciation of the slave trade, and only support independence when that language is removed from the Declaration. The walkout is fictional, and apparently most delegates, northern and southern, supported the deletion of the clause.

The song "Cool Considerate Men" is anachronistic because the terms "right" and "left" in politics were not in use until the French Revolution of 1789. John Dickinson, who is portrayed as an antagonist here, was motivated mainly by his Quaker roots and his respect for the British Constitution, having lived in England for 3 years in the 1750s.[21] He was no wealthier than some members of the pro-Independence faction, and freed his slaves in 1777. Thomas Jefferson wrote that "his name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution".[22]

The quote attributed to Edmund Burke by Dr. Lyman Hall in a key scene with John Adams is a paraphrase of a real quote by Mr. Burke.[20]

For practical and dramatic purposes, the play does not depict all of the more than 50 members of Congress who were present at the time. The John Adams of the play is, in part, a composite character, combining the real Adams with his cousin Samuel Adams, who was in Congress at the time but is not depicted in the play.[18] Although the play depicts Caesar Rodney as an elderly man near death from skin cancer (which would eventually kill him), he was just 47 years old at the time and continued to be very active in the Revolution after signing the Declaration. He was not absent from the voting because of health; however, the play is accurate in having him arrive "in the nick of time", having ridden eighty miles the night before (an event depicted on Delaware's 1999 State Quarter). In the play, Richard Henry Lee announces that he is returning to Virginia to serve as governor. He was never governor; his cousin Henry Lee (who is anachronistically called "General 'Lighthorse' Harry Lee", a rank and nickname earned later) did eventually become governor and would also become the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. John Adams was also depicted in the play and the film as disliking Richard Henry Lee. That is not the case as, according to David McCullough, Adams expressed nothing but "respect and admiration for the tall, masterly Virginian." He did, however, contrary to what was portrayed in the play and the film, dislike Benjamin Franklin. Martha Jefferson never traveled to Philadelphia to be with her husband. In fact, she was extremely ill during the summer of 1776, having just endured a miscarriage. The play's authors invented the scene "to show something of the young Jefferson's life without destroying the unity of setting."[19] James Wilson was not the indecisive milquetoast depicted in the play. The real Wilson, who was not yet a judge in 1776, had been cautious about supporting independence at an earlier date, but he supported the resolution of independence when it came up for a vote. Pennsylvania's deciding swing vote was actually cast by John Morton, who is not depicted in the musical.[18]

Dickinson, who refused to sign the Adams' and Jefferson's Declaration based in "rights of man" and "natural law", but set about drafting the Articles of Confederation, based in "rights and responsibilities of person", which would later be converted into the United States Constitution, was seeking to avoid reopening issues from the English Civil Wars, including Oliver Cromwell's Puritan regime, and the Jacobite cause. In 1689 these issues had been definitively resolved in the Glorious Revolution and the constitutionalization of the English Bill of Rights (based in "rights and responsibilities of person"; the word "man" is not used except in the context of treason). The last Jacobite Rebellion, seeking to reestablish Catholicism and the religious concept of "natural law", had only just happened in 1745, however. None of this background of Dickinson's position is depicted.

Many characters in 1776 differ from their historical counterparts. Central to the drama is the depiction of John Adams as "obnoxious and disliked". According to biographer David McCullough, however, Adams was one of the most respected members of Congress in 1776. Adams's often-quoted description of himself in Congress as "obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular" is from a letter written forty-six years later in 1822,[15] after his unpopular presidency had likely colored his view of the past. According to McCullough, no delegate described Adams as obnoxious in 1776.[16] Historian Garry Wills earlier made a similar argument, writing that "historians relay John Adams's memories without sufficient skepticism", and that it was Dickinson, not Adams, who was advocating an unpopular position in 1776.[17]

Of the four principal characters, the film also notably focuses on Jefferson's wife, Martha, and Adam's wife, Abigail, but omits Dickinson's wife, Mary Norris, who was actually in Philadelphia at the time, unlike the other wives, and had a different perspective than the other wives. Franklin's common law wife, Deborah Read, was deceased at this point, and his mistresses are not depicted.

The central departure from history is that the separation from Great Britain was accomplished in two steps: the actual vote for independence came on July 2 with the approval of Lee's resolution of independence. The wording of the Declaration of Independence—the statement to the world as to the reasons necessitating the split—was then debated for three days before being approved on July 4. The vote for independence did not hinge on some passages being removed from the Declaration, as implied in the play, since Congress had already voted in favor of independence before debating the Declaration. For the sake of drama, the play's authors combined the two events.[14] In addition, some historians believe that the Declaration was not signed on July 4, as shown in 1776, but was instead signed on August 2, 1776. The authors of 1776 had the delegates sign the Declaration on July 4 for dramatic reasons.[14]

According to The Columbia Companion to American History on Film, historical "[i]naccuracies pervade 1776, though few are very troubling."[12] Because Congress was held in secrecy and there are no contemporary records on the debate over the Declaration of Independence, the authors of the play created the narrative based on later accounts and educated guesses, inventing scenes and dialogue as needed for storytelling purposes. Some of the dialogue was taken from words written, often years or even decades later, by the actual people involved, and rearranged for dramatic effect.[13]

Historical accuracy

Scene Three of 1776 holds the record for the longest time in a musical without a single note of music played or sung – over thirty minutes pass between "The Lees of Old Virginia" and "But Mr. Adams," the next number. On the DVD commentary, Peter Stone says that he experimented with adding various songs in this section, but nothing ever worked. During this scene, dubbed "Big Three" by cast members, musicians were allowed to leave the pit, reportedly the first time in Broadway history that they were permitted to do so in the middle of a show. Stone also notes that people often told him that, because of the subject matter and the large amount of dialogue, 1776 should have been a conventional play rather than a musical. Stone believes that the songs create a playful, irreverent tone that helps bring the historical characters to life.

Dramatic analysis


Principal characters and original cast

Rex Everhart, who replaced Howard Da Silva on the original cast album, understudied Hingle as Franklin. [10][9] as Jefferson.Paul Michael Valley as Franklin, and Pat Hingle as Dickinson, Michael Cumpsty as Adams, Brent Spiner, and featured Kathleen Marshall with choreography by Scott Ellis The production was directed by [10] It closed on June 14, 1998, after 333 performances and 34 previews.[9]

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