Introduction to Independence Now!

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The response to our play A Rising Sun was very gratifying.  Word of mouth – many teachers talking to teachers – kept the bookings for the play being made throughout the school year.

After the first season, teachers began to ask if more plays were being planned.  The research indicated that the chamber of Independence Hall could be the scene for a trilogy of plays celebrating the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Beverly Manning Lamping wanted the presentations to complement what the students were studying, and also to appeal to as many grade levels as possible.  She felt the next play should be about the Declaration of Independence.

The research resumed, and it led to some unexpected, perplexing, and delightful revelations.

The first surprise came when I realized that Thomas Jefferson was not going to be a character in a play about the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson spoke very little during the Second Continental Congress.  He did not participate in the discussions and debates, and there was virtually no conflict concerning the necessity of the declaration itself.  The congress had voted and agreed that if independence should be proclaimed, it would be essential to explain the necessity of such an unprecedented and monumental action to the rest of the world.

The conflict arose from the basic decision that needed to be made:  should the American colonies separate from England or should they remain at the mercy of a misguided king and his parliament?  Once again, the characters for the play emerged from the conflict.

John Adams had been pressing the congress to separate for over a year.

Abigail Adams appeared through her remarkable correspondence with John.

John Dickinson was a true patriot who believed that independence and the inevitable war with Great Britain would destroy the colonies.

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, entitled Common Sense, inspired the majority of colonists toward separation from England, and challenged their belief in the Divine Right of Kings.  

The play was titled Independence Now! And now we’re thrilled to be able to share this play with an even wider audience as our new audio production.

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Brief biographies of the characters are included below:

 

 

Abigail Adams (November 11, 1744 – October 28, 1818)

Abigail Adams was born at Weymouth, Massachusetts, where her father was the minister of the Congregational church.

Of her childhood, she wrote, “I never was sent to school.  I was always sick”   (Adams, n.d.).  She spent much of her time in seclusion at the home of her grandparents.  “Her grandmother, with a happy method of mixing instruction and amusement together, took the place of school.  The distance separating the homes of her relatives and friends was too great to permit frequent visits, so that ‘letter writing became a habit among the young people’” (Malone, 1934).  Through these circumstances, Abigail became one of the most highly noted letter writers in American history.

On October 25, 1764, she was married to John Adams, and during the next ten years, their four children were born: John Quincy Adams, Thomas, Charles, and Abby.  John Quincy Adams became the sixth president of the United States.

In the early part of the American Revolution, when John Adams was much of the time in Philadelphia, Abigail was left with the entire care of the family.  She managed their affairs with great ability; at the same time attending to the farm, keeping up her keen interest in politics, and perpetuating in her letters, a vivid picture of the times.

Abigail’s life during this period is well documented by her pen in scores of letters to her absent husband.  Sometimes she wrote daily; sometimes three times a day!  Her letters, marked by wit, a high intellect, deep concern for her husband, and replete with biblical or classical allusions, touched on many subjects.  Her letters kept John Adams alive in spirit during his time in Philadelphia, and ensured his sanity.

Abigail was at times, a balance wheel; at others, a source of encouragement.  She was always a source of strength to her husband.  Her faith in John never wavered throughout their fifty-four years of marriage.

It has been said that without John Adams, there would have been no Declaration of Independence, and without Abigail Adams, there would have been no John Adams in Philadelphia.

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Thomas Paine (January 29, 1737 – June 8, 1809)

Revolutionary, political pamphleteer, agitator, and author of Common Sense, The Age of Reason, and The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, England.

He attended grammar school until he reached thirteen, when poverty made it necessary to apprentice him at his father’s trade of rope maker.  At nineteen, he left home, shipping for a brief career as a private able-bodied seaman.

From 1757 to 1774, he was successively, and in various towns, a rope maker, school teacher, tax collector, tobacconist, and grocer.

In 1772, as an agent and lobbyist for his fellow tax collectors, Paine wrote The Case of the Officers in Excise, which was an attempt to get the British Parliament to raise wages.  

In London, Paine had the luck to meet Benjamin Franklin, and to make a favorable impression upon him.  In October 1774, bearing invaluable letters of introduction from Franklin, this “ingenious, worthy young man” left for the New World.

Arriving in Philadelphia, Paine fell naturally into journalism.  He supported himself by writing pieces for the Pennsylvania Magazine.

Common Sense was published as an anonymous, two-shilling pamphlet of forty-seven pages on January 10, 1776.  It urged the immediate declaration of independence from England, not merely as a striking practical gesture that would help unite the colonies and secure French and Spanish aid, but as the fulfillment of America’s moral obligation to the world.  He believed that while their society was still incorrupt, natural, and democratic, that the colonies should free themselves from a vicious monarchy, and alter human destiny by their example.

He insisted in The Rights of Man, and in all his writings of this period, on the necessity for a strong federal union.  He believed that government should guarantee to the individual, that portion of his natural rights—secured by government—which he could not ensure for himself.  He believed that the government of a free country is secured not in an individual person or persons, but in its laws.  Laws should prohibit actions hurtful to society, but should guarantee the rights of individuals to speak freely, own property, and be free of oppression.  

His familiarity with the scientific and sociological writings of his contemporaries gave him a definite idea of a much better world.  His experience with the American Revolution led him to participate in the French Revolution, during which time his pen continued to expound his vision of a better world.  To the end, Paine would put up with nothing less than the “Republic of Man.”  

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John Adams (October 19, 1735 – July 4, 1826)

John Adams, the second president of the United States, was born at Braintree, Massachusetts.  

On graduating from Harvard College in 1755, he taught school at Worchester with thoughts of becoming a minister, but “frigid John Calvin” was not to his liking, and he had growing doubt on some disputed points of doctrine.  Thus, he took up the study of law in the conviction that “the study and practice of law does not dissolve the obligations of morality or religion” (Adams, 1756).   

Taking an interest in town matters, he wrote for the newspapers on public affairs while his law practice grew slowly.  In 1764 he married Abigail Smith, an event that Adams described in his autobiography as “a connection which has been the source of all my felicity.”

In 1765, the British Parliament passed the infamous Stamp Act that taxed the American colonies to support the British occupation army in Massachusetts.  Adams disapproved of the Stamp Act riots which ensued, but opposed the act on legal grounds, arguing that it was invalid because the colonists had never consented to it.  The resolutions of protest he prepared were followed throughout Massachusetts.

The next year, Adams moved his law office to Boston where he became more active in colonial politics and won a steadily improving reputation as a lawyer.

In 1770, after the Boston Massacre, Adams successfully defended the British soldiers who fired into a crowd of irate colonists.  He took this unpopular position to prove the spirit of the law in the colonies was alive and applied to everyone.

John Adams was a political philosopher rather than a politician, statesman, or diplomat.  He could not compromise his ideals, nor condone others who did not live by his stern Puritan principles.

In his letters, Thomas Jefferson  wrote, “There is not upon this earth a more perfectly honest man than John Adams.  Concealment is no part of his character.  It is not in his nature to meditate anything that he would not publish to the world.  There is not the smallest spice of dishonesty, moral or political, in the character of John Adams, for I knew him well” (Webster, 1826).

During the debates for the resolution to declare independence, Adams was again, according to Jefferson, “not always fluent in his public addresses, he yet came out with a power both of thought and of expression that moved us from our seats” (Webster, 1826).

**

John Dickinson (November 8, 1732 – February 14, 1808)

John Dickinson was a representative for the colony of Pennsylvania.  

In 1750, he became a student in the law office of one of the leading members of the Philadelphia Bar.  Three years later, he went to London to continue his studies in the Middle Temple, remaining there until 1757 when he returned to Philadelphia, and at once, began to practice law.  Within five years, he had risen to eminence, and was arguing cases before the Colonial Supreme Court.  His interests, however, were historical and political, rather than legal.  

Prior to the Declaration of Independence, John Dickinson was known as “The Penman of the Revolution.”  His Letters From a Pennsylvania Farmer were read in the colonies and in England.  

In 1762, he was elected as a representative to the Pennsylvania legislature, and like nearly one third of the American colonists, Dickinson was intensely conservative in regard to any action that could be considered “dangerous.”  He admitted all injustices of the British rule, but feared that any change or perilous challenge to the propriety system would make matters worse.

Although he was one of the leaders of the opposition to the Stamp Act, he also opposed all violent resistance, including even the “non-use” of stamps by lawyers.

In November 1775, he drafted a resolution instructing the delegates of the Congress to use every possible means to gain redress of grievances, but to consider no measure looking toward separation from England.  However, the general opinion of the country was changing, and by the beginning of 1776, the majority began to believe that complete separation was the only solution to the problem.  Yet Dickinson, and some of the other leaders, continued to cling to the hope of reconciliation.

When independence was declared, Mr. Dickinson took command of a Pennsylvania militia battalion and served honorably.

“Despite his accomplishments late in life, Dickinson never fully escaped the stigma of his opposition to independence.  But upon hearing of Dickinson’s death in February 1808, Thomas Jefferson, for one, penned a glowing tribute:  ‘A more estimable man or truer patriot could not have left us.  …Among the first of the advocates for the rights of his country when assailed by Great Britain, he continued to the last, the orthodox advocate of the true principles of our new government, and his name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the Revolution’” (Rakove, 2010).

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Authors Notes

Abigail Adams and Thomas Paine were not physically present in Philadelphia.  Abigail was actually with the children at the family farm in Massachusetts.  Her influence is portrayed through a series of letters she wrote to John Adams.  Thomas Paine was in the field with General Washington.  His presence is due to the profound impact of Common Sense.  Their “spirited” participation in the play is similar to a Greek chorus.  They do not appear highly stylized and choreographed, but they begin the play, interact, comment, help drive the dialogue, and close the play with an epilogue.  It is like a montage of action and dialogue between them, John Adams, and John Dickinson who were representatives in Congress.

The opening of Independence Now! was based upon Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech which establishes the premise and the dynamics of the play.

The research revealed a bounty of relevant quotes that were not used in the play.  Some of them were arranged as a prologue which was later expanded into another production called  The Gathering Storm in America.  But that is another story.

A working copy of the script was written, the actors were rehearsed, and Independence Now! was well received as another presentation for Knott’s Adventures in Education.  

And the journey continued.

 

References

Adams, C. F. (n.d.)  Abigail Smith Adams, 1744 – 1818.  ColonialHall. com.  Retrieved from http://colonialhall.com/adamsj/adamsAbigail.php

Adams, J. (1756).  Diary of John Adams, Volume 1.  The Massachusetts Historical Society.  Retrieved from https://www.masshist.org/publications/apde2/view?id=ADMS-01-01-02-0002-0008-0009    

Adams, J. (1765).  Marriage and law practice.  Founders Online.  Retrieved from https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-03-02-0016-0011

Malone, D. (1934).  Dictionary of American biography.  XIV pgs. 161-162.  New York, NY:   Charles Scriber’s Sons.   

Rakove, J. (2010, June 3) The patriot who refused to sign the Declaration of Independence.  History.net.  Retrieved from  http://www.historynet.com/the-patriot-who-refused-to-sign-the-declaration-of-independence.htm

Webster, D. (1826).  Eulogy of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams by Daniel Webster.    Foundation Truths.  Retrieved from https://captainjamesdavis.net/2013/04/05/eulogy-of-thomas-jefferson-and-john-adams-by-daniel-webster/  

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