1776 is a film that displays the events of the Revolutionary war through a musical. Prior to July 4, 1776, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin are trying to force Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence as they try to persuade the American colonies to support independence from Britain. Large portions of the dialogue and musical lyrics from this movie were actually taken from real letters and memories of people during this time. This movie was extremely entertaining and interesting, but one key question is how historically accurate was this film?
One of the main historical inaccuracies was the fact that the Declaration of Independence was not actually signed on July 4th by all of the congressional members. It is agreed, that the signers put their names on the document at different times. Abigail Adams and John Adams did indeed write letters to each other asking for pins and saltpeter. Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence did include the portion that Edward Rutledge drew attention to. It was about the slave trade, not actually about slavery itself. There is a controversy as to whether or not Jefferson intended to free slaves. The New York delegation did abstain from voting for independence. Historically, there were two votes. One was on independence as proposed by Lee and then the vote approving the Declaration of Independence. New York abstained from both, but the New York legislature did approve it after the fact. Caesar Rodney actually was dying in history. It has been proven that he was dying of skin cancer, however he was not actually on his deathbed in 1776 like the movie portrayed.
Congress did not keep detailed records on the debates that took place during this time, so a lot of the dialogues were written based on educated guesses. According to the movie, John Adams was considered and obnoxious and rude man, but there is evidence that Adams was a very well liked and honorable man. The movie did not depict all of the members present at the congress, because there were more than 50, and this would not have been very practical.
The final historical inaccuracy in this movie was the attitude presented towards slavery. In the movie, after the debate over slavery, the southern delegates walk out to protest the Declaration's denunciation of slave trade, and will only support independence when that was removed from the Declaration. The walkout is fictional, and most delegates actually supported the removing of the clause. Thomas Jefferson was depicted as saying that he has resolved to free his slaves, something he did not do, except for a few slaves freed after his death. Franklin said that he was the founder of an abolitionist organization, but the real Benjamin Franklin did not become an abolitionist until after the American Revolution, when he became president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
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