• Gina Rullo

1776: A memorable musical about independence


The film poster for the musical 1776. (Courtesy Photo)

A million years ago (OK, more like 20-something), I watched the 1972 musical 1776 for the first time.


It was, and is, super-cheesy and I loved it for its simplistic portrayal of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


John Adams as portrayed by Williams Daniels (Mr. Feeny to you “Boy Meets World Fans” or voice of K.I.T.T. on “Knight Rider” or Dr. Mark Craig on “St. Elsewhere”) is my favorite character by far.


Adams is a fiery believer in independence from Britain.


He is also a bit divisive. But those who believe in truth and honesty often are.


Here is one of his tirades.


“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress! For 10 years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns and spilled our blood! And still, this Congress refuses to grant any of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God, what in hell are you waiting for?” Adams bellows at the end.


Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) is a droll character who has some of the best lines in the movie. Some are humorous, like this one: “You know, perhaps I should have written the Declaration. At my age there’s little doubt that the pen is mightier than the sword.”


Or more serious, like “Be careful, Mr. Dickinson. Those who would give up some of their liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”



The movie is set, of course, in Philadelphia in 1776 (duh). It is a hot summer and there are flies everywhere.


Adams is not amused to be in the City of Brotherly Love.


“At a stage in life when other men prosper, I’m reduced to living in Philadelphia,” he says.


The Declaration of Independence was the necessary formal document needed to help gain support for the colonies separating from Great Britain. The war was already ongoing. George Washington was commanding troops.  But there was no confirmed unifying purpose.  Besides the South wasn’t 100 percent on-board at least that’s how it is shown in the film especially with South Carolina’s Edward Rutledge (John Cullum).


They debate the issues and must come to a unanimous agreement. Adams, Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the other supporters of American Independence work to convince their fellow members to vote yes.


The men’s actions could have been considered treasonous by the crown. Their actions endangered their lives. Consider this exchange:


Dr. Benjamin Franklin: John, really. You talk as if independence were the rule. It’s never been done before. No colony has ever broken from the parent stem in the history of the world.


John Adams: Damn it, Franklin! You make us sound treasonous.


Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Do I? Treason, eh? “Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.”


John Adams: I have more to do than stand here listening to you quote yourself.


Dr. Benjamin Franklin: No, that was a new one.


Now have I piqued your interest?


You can watch 1776 on TCM on July 4 at 10:15 p.m. If you’re not going to be home, please set your DVR.



Gina Rullo is the editor-in-chief of The Hammonton Gazette. IMDB is the source of the movie quotes.