I have a great love of musicals that has been with me most of my life. One I discovered in middle school was 1776, which then was a recent Broadway hit (and winner of 3 Tonys in 1969, including Best Musical), and since its release on laserdisc (think DVD, but bigger), it’s been a 4th of July perennial at our house.
At the heart of the show is the correspondence between John Adams and Abigail, while he is in “Foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy — Philadephia!” for the Continental Congress, and Abigail is holding down the family farm in Braintree, Massachuesetts. The pair “speak” across the miles via their letters, the lyrics based upon the actual documents. John and Abigail were prolific correspondents and in their letters, we have a glimpse into both large and small concerns.
Of particular interest are selections from two seperate letters from John, dated July 3, 1776. The first:
Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do.” You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impell’dUs to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man. A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days.
When I look back to the Year 1761, and recollect the Argument concerning Writs of Assistance, in the Superiour Court, which I have hitherto considered as the Commencement of the Controversy, between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole Period from that Time to this, and recollect the series of political Events, the Chain of Causes and Effects, I am surprized at the Suddenness, as well as Greatness of this Revolution. Britain has been fill’d with Folly, and America with Wisdom, at least this is my judgment. — Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us. — The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great. But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable [as] the Faith may be, I firmly believe.
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
John’s hope, that he could see “the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory,” was translated directly into 1776‘s final number, when, alone in the darkened chamber, thinking the vote for the Declaration might well be lost, he asks, “Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?”
Over 200 years later, while the date of the first signings is celebrated, not the passage of the Declaration itself, with all of America’s flaws and pains, triumphs, troubles, failings, regrets, and successes, I believe we, too, can look through the Gloom to see the hope of that light that John Adams glimpsed so many years ago.
Happy 2nd 4th of July, everyone.
Cuttings taken from:
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Your Favour of June 17…” [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/
Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Your Favour of June 17…”, ibid.
All spelling mistakes belong to John Adams