Tomorrow is July 4th, Independence Day here in the United States and it will be time to watch one of our favorite movies again — the musical entitled 1776. Originally a Broadway musical, the movie is quite good, too. The history isn’t too badly fiddled with — although I can’t imagine Adams, Franklin, Jefferson and Sherman dancing around singing loudly about who should write the Declaration of Independence and Mrs. Jefferson never made it to Philadelphia during that blazingly hot Summer. Still it gave me an entrance point into the history of our country and the men that founded it. If nothing else, the movie portrays them as men, not gods with their own trials, self-doubts and afflictions. John Adams knows that he is “obnoxious and disliked”, but his desire for independence outweighs his desire to be loved. He had seen the Crown’s injustices up close, living and working in Boston, and yet still believed in justice enough to defend the soldiers accused in the “Boston Massacre” when no one else would.
The other striking lesson is how close the Continental Congress came to preventing the American Civil War 90 years later. The original Declaration had language banning slavery, even though Jefferson himself was a conflicted and confused slave owner at the time. Several southern states representatives demanded that that language be removed or they would forever bury the question for Independence from England. The language was removed and the die was cast for Fort Sumter, Bull Run and Appomattox Courthouse.
1776 led us to make sure to visit the birthplaces, homes and crypts of John and Abigail and their son John Quincy and his wife, Louisa. I have laid my hands on their crypts and wondered what drove them to accomplish all they did. After our return home from that trip, I read John’s diaries and Rosanne read the letters between John and Abigail. We then shared our favorite parts back and forth as we read. I remembered standing in their original farmhouse and imagined young John Quincy running about, then moving next door to his parents to start his own family. We visited The Old Manse where John, Abigail and a host of other famous (in infamous) Adams’ lived out their heritage. I stood where John suffered his fatal heart attack and stood in the bedroom where he died. It is hard to imagine such scenes so many years after they occurred, but on that trip we both felt we got to know the Adams’ — and their impact on America — just a little bit better.
If you have a chance this weekend, find a copy of 1776 (hopefully the newer Director’s Cut and not the horrible pan and scan version from the 1980’s) and immerse yourself in the history of your country. You will find that the Founding Fathers were just as flawed as any man is today, but they still accomplished some very great things.
Some books on this period of American History:
Previously on End of the Day: