1776

As you’ll see on my reading list for April, I recently read the book Know Your Declaration of Independence and the 56 Signers by George E. Ross.  I can trace my interest in the Declaration of Independence to the Summer of 1994.  My best friend at the time was technical assistant with Music Theater Louisville.  That summer they were doing the musical 1776, and my high school drama director had the role of Edward Rutledge, representative from the colony of South Carolina.

My parents actually had the movie version of 1776 on VHS which my friend and watched one Friday night with his mom.  We fell in love.  When it was over, we found ourselves looking up facts about the different representatives of the Second Continental Congress in the encyclopedia.  I saw the show twice with gratis tickets, and each time my drama director mesmerized the audience with his breath-taking performance of “Molasses to Rum to Slaves”.  My friend and I spent the summer walking around Kentucky Kingdom singing “Sit Down, John” and “He Plays the Violin” at the top of our lungs.  I know–we were wild and crazy teens.

After that John and Abigail Adams definitely topped my list of five dead people I would want to have dinner with.  When I read David McCullough’s biography of John Adams I was excited to realize how much of the musical came from his letters to and from Abigail.  It also made me realize how his contributions to this country are vastly under-appreciated.  And I think I sympathize with Adams’ low b.s. tolerance, which made him less than popular with his peers even though they highly respected his ability and intellect.

As I read through Know Your Declaration… I could hear the lines and songs from the musical/movie running through my head.  Certain quotes even made more sense;  I didn’t realize that when Benjamin Franklin mocks extending the olive branch that he was referring to the Olive Branch Petition.  There were a few factoids that I wasn’t sure if the book or the musical was more correct, and I did find some discrepancies in the musical/movie script.  But then again, it’s just a musical.

One thing that I loved about the book was that it listed the educational background of each signer.  Seventeen of the 56 are labeled as “self-taught” or “taught at home”.  That doesn’t even include the ones marked as having attended college but who probably received their basic education at home.  Of course, modern day advocates of public schooling like to say that people had less to learn back then.  It’s true that science and technology have blossomed in the past 230 years, but our founding fathers had an amazing depth of knowledge as a attested by their accomplishments.  For instance, Benjamin Franklin learned “grammar and logic, algebra and geometry, the principles of science and fundamentals of Latin, French, German, and Italian” through an educational program of his own design, as well as learning how to be a printer through an apprenticeship (p. 44).

I would really like to add Know Your Declaration of Independence and the 56 Signers to our personal library, but I’ll have to track down a used copy.  The book is part of series from the sixties which is now out of print.  It is great for its snapshot portraits, even though it completely omits any reference to the anti-slavery portion that was removed from the original Declaration draft.  And like most history books produced for children, character flaws of the signers are mostly over-looked.  I keep getting  these great homeschooling visions, though, of compare/contrast projects involving this book and the musical 1776.

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One Comment on “1776”

  1. Joe Says:

    Well, Barbara, John Adams WAS obnoxious and disliked, you know 😉

    Your fellow 1776 fan,

    Joe


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