Synopsis

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1776 is the Broadway version of the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

   Representatives of the original thirteen colonies have gathered in the swealtering heat of a Philadelphia summer as the 2nd Continental Congress convenes. Internally divided over the question of American Independence, the men have grown tired of listening to John Adams' repeated pleas to conform (Sit Down, John). In fact, Adams himself had grown weary of the delegates' inability to agree on ANYTHING, let alone as issue as important as Independence (Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve). Adams laments his situation and vents his frustrations to his wife, Abigail, through letters and imagined conversations (Till Then and Yours, Yours, Yours).

   Adams and Ben Franklin ultimately decide that, since Adams' is so resoundingly regarded as "obnoxious and disliked", the only way to get a resolution on independence introduced to Congress is to persuade another delgate to make the proposal. For that, they call upon Virginia braggard Richard Henry Lee (The Lees of Old Virginia).

   Lee returns from Virgina with the proposal, opening up the issue to heated debate. Adams locks horns with Pennsylvania proprietor John Dickinson, who is staunchly opposed to independence. After much battle, the proposal gets put up for vote, but not before Dickinson insures that the vote must be unanimous. As a staling tactic (to give themselves time to sway votes their way), Adams and Franklin suggest the writing of a "declaration", spelling out "their goals and aims" and "reasons for separation".

   But who best to write it? Adams declines, knowing that anything he writes will be thoroughly ripped apart by his many detractors. Similarly, the other members of the Declaration Committee (Franklin, Roger Sherman of CT and Robert Livingston of NY) avoid the chore in favor of the popular and well written Thomas Jefferson (But Mr. Adams).

   Jefferson, however, is unable to concentrate drafting the document because he is pining for the young bride he left behind in Virginia 6 months earlier. Adams calls for Martha Jefferson to come to Philadelphia, theorizing that "the sooner HIS problem is solved, the sooner OUR problem will be solved." When Adams and Franklin finally meet Martha, they are enthralled by her charm and beauty as she extolls the virtues of her talented husband (He Plays The Violin).

   Dickinson, meanwhile, tries to keep the opposition to Adams in tact (Cool, Cool Considerate Men) as General George Washinton's courier repeatedly brings discouraging dispatches from the battlefront (Momma, Look Sharp).

   The Declaration finally written, Adams and Franklin convince Jefferson of the genius and strength of his words (The Egg), but are quickly disheartened to see Congress pick the document apart with a fine tooth comb. Jefferson acquiesces to smaller, insignificant criticisms of the Declaration, but stands his ground when the abolition of slavery is vehemently challenged by South Carolina's Edward Rutledge (Molasses To Rum).

   With half of the Congress walking out with Rutledge, Adams' dreams of independence appear to be over (Is Anybody There?). One by one, however, individual delegates begin to come around to Adams' side. In a major concession, Jefferson begrudgingly agrees to remove the slavery clause in order to win back the two Carolinas. A split Delaware vote goes back in favor of Adams when a dying Caesar Rodney is brought to Philadelphia from his death bed.

   Pennsylvania becomes the last stumbling block for Adams. While Franklin is clearly on his side, Dickinson is clearly not. The other Pennsylvania delegate, the spineless James Wilson, has long deffered to Dickinson. But when the final vote takes place, and it is Wilson's vote that will make Independence either live or die, Wilson swings his vote with Franklin in order to "remain one of many" rather than "be remembered as the man who prevented American Independence".

   The declaration is finally ratified, as the closing scene becomes the famous tableau of the delegates signing while the Liberty Bell clangs stirringly over head.



- Thomas Schopper (thomas_schopper@time-inc.com)



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