1776

by

Life stopped for a week in Mr. Carol’s 8th grade history class when we watched “1776,” a musical-turned-movie made a decade before any of us were born, about a bunch of frumpy old white guys in wigs talking about politics.  Somehow we loved it.  We tromped around the halls for weeks singing those songs.  When I see those friends, we can STILL sing those songs.  I have been trying for two years to communicate some of that joy to my students, with some successes and some failures.  Even if they don’t love it the way we did, it is still a useful way to teach about colonial America and address media literacy.

Positives: Covers many useful topics including reasons for and against independence, the personalities of key figures in the Revolution and the dismal state of the Continental Army at the onset of the conflict with Britain.  Much of the dialogue is based on writing from the historical individuals, and while a lot of it is dramatized, it includes some good history.

Negatives: It’s a bunch of ’70s guys wearing wigs and tights who sing.  Some students find this hilarious in the good way, while others find it hilarious in the bad way.

Summary of the Scenes:

(the scenes in italics are ones I typically do not show)

Scene 1: Opening Credits

Scene 2: Mr Adams (02:30 – 05:14) The steward brings Adams down from sitting alone in the bell tower.  He is frustrated with the pace of change at the Continental Congress and the frivolous changes they do make

Scene 3: “Sit Down John!”  (05:15 – 06:50) This song will get stuck in your head.  Adams pushes for independence while being shot down by the other congressmen who remind him that he is obnoxious.  He shows himself to be plucky and committed to the cause.

Scene 4: “Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve” (06:50 – 11:20) Adams sings to himself/his wife about his frustration with congress.  The songs to Abigail are a clever representation of his letters back and forth with her, and give the film a human touch and a sense of ordinary life in colonial America.  This scene could be reasonably cut, but it does mention German mercenaries, wartime shortages of household goods, women’s involvement in acquiring supplies for the army, and disease on the home front.

Scene 5: Benjamin Franklin (11:21 – 15:47) Franklin gets his picture painted while he discusses with Adams how to get independence passed in spite of personal politics at the congress.  Franklin suggests another approach to make independence more popular: ask a southerner to propose it.  Also contains a brief recap of the military situation and touching on independence as “treason.”

Scene 6: “The Lees of Old Virginia” (15:47 – 26:38) A catchy but frivolous song in which Lee boasts about how successful he’ll be, because his family is so fabulous.  It is a song with a fabulous long-distance jump onto a horse, though.  My social studies teacher made us watch this in 8th grade and we can all still sing it by heart.  I won’t say this is why I’m a history teacher, but it didn’t hurt.

Segue into Dr. Lyman Hall entering the Congress for the first time and being introduced to all the characters.  This can be very helpful for students.

Scene 7: Congress now in session (26:38 – 59:30) This scene offers glimpse at the operations of the Congress (drinking, roll call, proposing resolutions etc).  It includes a letter from George Washington describing the British attack on New York, the dire situation of the Continental Army.  Richard Henry Lee comes back with the independence resolution at 32:00.  They read & debate it.  A vote to debate or post-post indefinitely gives the delegates an opportunity to reveal their positions and state major reasons for and against independence.  Bathroom humor and a little bit of salty language (still rated G, apparently) punctuate the politicking.

Dickinson and Adams argue pros and cons of remaining a part of England.  Some English cultural references (Lionheart, Stuarts, Tudors, Plantagenet, etc) may require an explanation.  The pitting of resistance to tyranny against treason against a legitimate government comes up again, as well as the notion of colonists as Americans rather than as Englishmen.  Franklin describes the new American character, and he and Adams argue that the rich are holding back independence to preserve the status quo and their own self-interest.  Dickinson blames New England for causing the problems for their own reasons.

After 15 minutes of argument, Congress breaks out into chaos and a dog wanders in, highlighting the chaos.

South Carolina expresses regionalism, and their desire to be independent only if each state is completely sovereign.  Maryland wants to wait until the military is successful before declaring political independence.

The New Jersey delegation arrives to change the balance in Congress.  The scene mentions the incarceration of Franklin’s son, the Royal Governor, and Franklin’s feeling towards him, as well as the decision to make it a unanimous vote on independence and the decision to write a formal declaration.

Scene 8. The Declaration committee (59: 30 – 1:01:10) In which they form the committee to write the Declaration of Independence, highlighting Jefferson’s reluctance.

Scene 9: “But, Mr. Adams” (1:01:10 – 1:07:12) This song contains a dramatized debate over which committee member should write the declaration, the main lesson being that John Adams is “obnoxious and disliked, you know that’s so.”  It is very fun and memorable, although does get a little sassy (though still G rated!) at the end.

Scene 10: Writer’s block Jefferson isn’t motivated to write because he misses his wife.  This and the following scenes aren’t necessary for students to watch, although they are fun and move the romantic sub-stories forward.

Scene 11-14: Mrs. Jefferson Arrives, “Till Then,”  Reintroducing themselves, “He Plays the Violin” (1:07:12 – 1:26:18) These scenes develop Jefferson’s character a lot more and introduce his wife, Martha.  Jefferson has writer’s block and can’t write a good declaration, so Adams sends for his wife to visit him and get his out of this rut.  Adams and Franklin exchange bawdy comments, John Adams & Abigail sing their letters to each other, and Martha Jefferson sings a song about her husband’s violin skills.  I skip these scenes when playing it in class because “it’s gross kissy stuff,” as I explain to students.

Scene 15: Congressional committees (1:26:18 – 1:35:27) Franklin, McKean and Adams try to sway more people toward independence while they wait on Jefferson to write the Declaration.

Scene 16: “Cool Considerate Men” (1:35:27 – 1:44:39) Spectacular song to represent (and slander?) the conservative viewpoint.  This was apparently taken out of the play when it was performed for President Nixon and then taken out of the theatrical cut of the film.  The gist of it: we’ve got money and security, so why risk all by going “to the left” and “If we cannot win, why bother to begin?”  The song is punctuated by a letter from George Washington describing the dire military situation and that the British are headed toward Philadelphia.

I ended up showing this to both a US I studying the Revolutionary War and to a US II class studying Nixon and conservatism.  With the US II group I posed the question “Does a movie made in the 1970s about the 1770s tell you more about the 1970s or the 1770s?”  Almost every student said the 1770s.  After the film clip we picked it apart, looking for how conservatives are portrayed (attitude, clothing, hair) and who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are in the film.  Through some discussion, we were able to tease out the fact that the author wants us to think that these political conservatives were not just playing it safe—they were selfish—and perhaps modern political conservatives are as well.

Scene 17: “Mama, Look Sharp” 1:44:39 A private in Washington’s army sings the story of his friend who was killed by the British at Lexington and his last words to his mother.  The song may be too slow or serious for some classes and can be cut if time is an issue, but it was a very human view of a young soldier’s experiences and the human cost of war.

I have not shown the film past this scene.  If you have time, it certainly can be done.  It covers the debate about the Declaration, a nice scene arguing about slavery, and the actual signing of the Declaration of Independence.

When showing this in class, I usually show a few clips over the course of 1-2 days.  I am attaching a lesson plan for how I have used the clips.  They also can be used in a more abbreviated form, simply asking students to jot down “Reasons for Independence” and “Reasons against Independence.”

Unit Name: Changes in Colonial America
Lesson Plan Title: The Essential Question Day within the Unit #:
What made Colonial Americans patriots or loyalists? 11-12
State Standard(s):
History & SS Skills 8-12: 8. Interpret the past from within its own historical context rather than in terms of present-day norms & values

 

Lesson Objective(s): The student will be able to:                                  (Include Resources)

 

  • Explain several major arguments for and against independence: the colonies were unlikely to win, the colonies benefited from Britain and was a part of Britain, the British had violated colonists’ rights and exploited them economically, the colonists and the British were now too different to stay one nation

Resources:

DVD of the film 1776 (rated G)

Notes Sheet (attached)

Vocabulary:
Patriot, Loyalist, Tyranny

 

Lesson                                                                                                                    Time
Day 1:Do Now (5 mins): Students will answer the questions: “What does it mean to be patriotic?  What does it mean to be loyal?” and share their answers with the class.

 

The teacher will then explain that in this lesson, they will learn about some of the reasons that colonists chose to support or reject independence from Britain.

Patriots & Loyalists Activity (10 minutes): The teacher will write these definitions on the board/overhead for students to copy down on their worksheet (attached)

Patriot: A colonist who supported independence from Britain and who was willing to fight for it.

Loyalist: A colonist who wanted to remain a British colony and wanted to reestablish peace with Britain.

The teacher will pose the questions:

  • Patriots were also known as Rebels and Traitors.  Why do you think they called themselves Patriots?  Why do you think the Loyalists didn’t call them Patriots?

The teacher will give students time to work with a partner to read the quotes and decide whether they are from the perspective of a patriot or a loyalist.  They will share their answers.

Film Clips & notes (30 minutes):

Students will use their 1776 movie notes worksheet (attached) to jot down notes from the film. The teacher will show several scenes from the film, pausing to draw attention to key topics and to ask questions.

Students will be assigned one of the following characters to observe in particular: Edward Rutledge, John Adams, Colonel Thomas McKean, John Dickinson, Ben Franklin, George Reed, Roger Sherman, Dr. Lyman Hall, Stephen Hopkins, and Thomas Jefferson.  On their notes sheet, they will take notes on their appearance, behavior and language.

They will also take notes on major reasons for or against independence.

Scenes to show:

Scene 2: Mr. Adams (02:30 – 05:14) The steward brings Adams down from sitting alone in the bell tower.  He is frustrated with the pace of change at the Continental Congress and the frivolous changes they do make

Scene 3: “Sit Down John!”  (05:15 – 06:50) This song will get stuck in your  head.  Adams pushes for independence while being shot down by the other congressmen who remind him that he is obnoxious.  He shows himself to be plucky and committed to the cause.

Scene 5: Benjamin Franklin (11:21 – 15:47) Franklin gets his picture painted while he discusses with Adams how to get independence passed in spite of personal politics at the congress.  Franklin suggests another approach to make independence more popular: ask a southerner to propose it.  Also contains a brief recap of the military situation and touching on independence as “treason.”

Scene 6: “The Lees of Old Virginia” (15:47 – 26:38) (the song can be skipped, cutting out from 16:00 – 20:00) Dr. Lyman Hall enters the Congress for the first time and being introduced to all the characters.

Day 2:

Do Now (4 minutes): “What is one thing you remember from the movie yesterday?”   Students will volunteer answers.

Film Clips interspersed with discussion and notes (30 mins):

Scene 7: Congress now in session (26:38 – 59:30) This scene offers glimpse at the operations of the Congress (drinking, roll call, proposing resolutions etc).  It includes a letter from George Washington describing the British attack on New York, the dire situation of the Continental Army.  Richard Henry Lee comes back with the independence resolution at 32:00.  They read & debate it.  A vote to debate or post-post indefinitely gives the delegates an opportunity to reveal their positions and state major reasons for and against independence. 

Discussion & Wrap up questions (11 mins)
The teacher will lead students through the questions on the back of the 1776 movie notes sheet.  The teacher will give students a moment to answer question 1 and jot down an answer, and then share answers.   For question 2, the teacher will ask students to volunteer their character descriptions from the notes sheet, then as a class they will write down the characteristics patriots and loyalists shared.  They will then write down their answers for question 3.

Accommodations for Special Needs and ARL Students:
Pairing of visual & auditory information; questions to focus attention during the film

 

Assessment Strategies (Traditional/Authentic):Working towards proficiency
Class discussion and the homework will show if students understand the key ideas.

 

Homework: for day 2
Name:                                                                                                  Early US History1776 Homework

If they made a movie about this time period in England, do you think they would portray Patriots and Loyalists the same way that they did in 1776?  How might it be different? Your answer should be about 1 paragraph.

Name:                                                                                                  Early US HistoryLoyalists & Patriots

 

A Loyalist is:

A Patriot is:

1. “The Power assumed by the British Parliament to bind America by their [laws], in all cases whatsoever, is unconstitutional, and the Source of these unhappy differences.  The End of Government would be defeated by the British Parliament exercising a power over the Lives, the Property, and the Liberty of the American Subject; who are not, and, from their local Circumstances, cannot, be there represented.”

Is this from the perspective of a Patriot or a Loyalist?  How can you tell?

2. “By a reconciliation with Britain… peace will be restored…Agriculture, commerce, and industry would resume their wonted vigor…our trade would still have the protection of the greatest naval power in the world…The Americans are properly Britons.”

Is this from the perspective of a Patriot or a Loyalist?  How can you tell?

Name:                                                                                                  Early US HistoryMovie Notes: 1776

 

Everyone is assigned a different character to watch.  Please fill out this chart about this particular character:

Name of Delegate Colony Patriot or Loyalist? How does he dress, act, talk and behave?

 

Fill out this chart based on the arguments the delegates make in the film:

Reasons for Independence Reasons against Independence

Discussion Questions

  1. What social class do you think most members of Congress belong to—rich, middle class, working class, or poor?   How can you tell?
  1. Use the answers of your peers to fill out this chart:
How Patriots act, dress, talk & behave How Loyalists act, dress, talk & behave
  1. Why do you think the filmmaker made the differences between the appearances of Loyalists & Patriots so obvious?  What point do you think he was trying to prove?

Name:                                                                                                  Early US History

1776 Homework

If they made a movie about this time period in England, do you think they would portray Patriots and Loyalists the same way that they did in 1776?  How might it be different? Your answer should be about 1 paragraph.

Advertisements

Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “1776”

  1. Becky Says:

    We had to watch 1776 in 8th grade because we were going to do it as our musical but there was so much outcry over the girls having to play all male characters that they switched it to Hello Dolly instead. I think 1776 is very age dependent. I would appreciate it a lot more now than I did when I was 13 and disliked it because it’s a little difficult to get into and we were all upset over doing it as a school play to begin with. Granted, that probably biased me towards it negatively anyway. I can see how this film would be very hit or miss!

  2. Dayna Says:

    We watched this in 5th grade (the entire movie, but the sexual innuendo was fast-forwarded). My Dad always made us watch it on the 4th of July from when we were very young. I loved the beginning but then was bored from Molasses to Rum until the end.

    Cool Cool Considerate Men was not in the version I had originally. I saw it in the play in middle school or high school, and then got the DVD a few years ago.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: