Music & Lyrics: Sherman Edwards

Book: Peter Stone

1776 dramatizes the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As the play begins, the representatives of the original thirteen colonies have gathered together in Philadelphia for the 2nd Continental Congress, and John Adams is attempting to deliver his proposal for independence, but the other delegates are in no mood to listen to the unpopular Adams' ramblings, and his proposal is quickly dismissed. Adams then vents his frustrations to his colleague, Benjamin Franklin, who wisely suggests that they convince some other, more popular Congressman to propose independence. They find their man in Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. However, even coming from the well-liked Lee, the proposal seems headed for defeat when John Dickinson, staunchly opposed to independence, puts in place a motion which requires that the vote for independence be unanimous. With the proposal heading for certain defeat, Adams improvises a proposal calling for the composition of a declaration of some sort, explaining to the world the reasons for the proposed separation from England. Only after the drafting of this document is complete can the vote take place. The other delegates agree, and a reluctant Thomas Jefferson is appointed to draft the declaration.

Having secured a little time, Adams and Franklin set about swaying the other delegates to their way of thinking. Meanwhile, John Dickinson tries to keep the opposition intact, and helping his cause is the fact that General George Washington's courier keeps relaying discouraging dispatches from the army's training grounds. When the Declaration of Independence is finally read before the Congress, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina attacks a passage that condemns slavery. Adams and Jefferson staunchly defend the passage, but when virtually all of the representatives from the South walk out, they realize that the slavery clause will have to be sacrificed. Independence is, after all, the goal. And as Benjamin Franklin puts it, "If we don't secure that, what difference will the rest make?"

Again, the delegates are gathered, and the final vote is tallied. In the end, the deciding vote belongs to James Wilson of Pennsylvania. In the past, he has always sided with fellow Pennsylvanian John Dickinson, but when he realizes that his vote will forever brand him as "the man who prevented American independence," he caves in, choosing instead to side with Adams and Franklin. The proposal passed, the declaration is ready for signatures. And as the Liberty Bell begins to ring, each delegate contemplates the future, knowing full well that if the war is lost, they will all be hanged for treason.

1776 opened at the 46th Street Theatre on March 16, 1969 with a cast that featured William Daniels (John Adams), Howard Da Silva (Benjamin Franklin), Ken Howard (Thomas Jefferson), Ronald Holgate (Richard Henry Lee), Paul Hecht (John Dickinson), Clifford David (Edward Rutledge), and Betty Buckley (Martha Jefferson). The production enjoyed a run of 1,217 performances. Daniels, Da Silva, Howard, and Holgate reprised their roles in the 1972 film version.

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