1776 movie poster

History Can Be Fun!

The 1972 movie musical 1776 is based on the Broadway musical and deals with events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Sounds dry as dust? It's not.

What's often forgotten is that our Founding Fathers were real characters, in the 'what a character!' sense of the word. Put Ben Franklin, John Adams, and the Continental Congress in a room to debate whether or not the colonies should declare their independence from Great Britain, and you've got a fascinating story. Especially when the characters break into song.

In Congress Assembled...

In 1776 in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress is in session, debating how to resolve their grievances with Great Britain. They have already established a Continental Army, currently in the field and commanded by General Washington, who sends the Congress increasingly gloomy status reports.

The delegates are split on how to proceed. While firebrand Boston lawyer John Adams (William Daniels) is leading the group demanding independence, southern conservatives are sure their quarrel with Great Britain can be resolved without a permanent breach. Adams has proposed independence so often and the delegates are so sick of hearing him ("Sit Down, John!"), that they are now likely to vote down any proposal from Adams simply because he's the one making it. "Let someone else propose independence," Philadelphia sage Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) pleads to Adams, "you're obnoxious and disliked."

A Resolution On Independency

Adams and Franklin put the proposal to Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee. Lee (Ron Holgate) jumps onboard enthusiastically, pointing out that if Virginia proposes independence, the other southern states will surely follow. He sets off for home to convince the Virginia legislature to pass an independence resolution, but not before explaining to Franklin and Adams how certain he is that he can accomplish the feat, singing the amusingly arrogant "The Lees Of Old Virginia". Waiting for the Virginia resolution, the Congress debates and brawls, presided over by an exasperated John Hancock (David Ford).

Now Lee has returned, and proposing the resolution on independence has passed to influential Virginia. Opponents of independence move for an immediate vote, a vote they know would reject independence. Stalling for time to work the delegates, Adams objects that they can't simply vote on independence, they must vote on a Declaration.

A Declaration Committee is formed, including Adams, Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard). In the amusing "But Mister Adams" number, Adams convinces Jefferson that he is the man who must write the first draft of their Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, this Enlightenment Renaissance Man hasn't been good for much of anything lately; he misses his wife too much to pay attention.

Wily old Franklin knows more about human nature than his young lawyer friend, and he's sent for Mrs. Jefferson (Blythe Danner), who in one of the sweetest numbers in the play explains to Franklin and Adams what is so entrancing about her husband - "He Plays The Violin".

Martha Jefferson and Abigail Adams

Martha is one of only two women in the film; the other is Adams' wife Abigail (Virginia Vestoff). Abigail is never present in Philadelphia, but is seen in split screen exchanging letters with John, frequently in the form of songs. She is his lifeline, his escape valve, and his sounding board, and a strong-willed capable personality in her own right.

An Extraordinary Event

There is little historical inaccuracy to quibble about with 1776. Much of the dialog has been taken from the speeches and letters of the time. And by viewing the events through the eyes of the participants, we regain the sense of excitement that has been dulled by too much familiarity, and realize what a truly extraordinary event this was. As Franklin said, "Nothing like this has been attempted before in the history of the world." The film ends with the Declaration signed, but the delegates knowing that the army is poised for battle that they could very well lose, that those who pledged "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" could indeed lose everything with that pledge.

1776 Credits

1776 was directed by Peter H. Hunt, and scripted by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone. The cast for the most part was the same cast from the Broadway version.

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