Although 1776 tells the story of what happened at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1776 leading up to the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, and it accurately portrays the serious personal and political issues at stake – frequently in the characters' own words, written by them at the time – it remains a musical comedy.
May 8, 1776. Philadelphia. As the Second Continental Congress proceeds with its business, the weather becomes increasingly hot, humid, and unbearable. This leaves the delegates in no condition to hear from the despised Delegate from Massachusetts, John Adams, who charges into the chamber in a foul mood. Adams loudly remarks that he has come to the conclusion that "one useless man is a disgrace; that two are a law firm; and that three or more become a congress." None of his proposals on independence has even been given "the courtesy of open debate." The other delegates, sick of Adams' constant agitation, implore him to Sit Down, John. Adams complains that Congress has done nothing in the year and a half in which they've been convened but Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve. Angered at the latest debate regarding the merits of compensation regarding a dead mule, Adams flees the chamber and reads the latest missive from his loving wife Abigail, who, being in actuality far away at their home in Braintree, appears in his imagination. She urges him to take swift action with regards to independence so he may finish up his business and hurry home to her. He asks if she's complied in his request for the women of the area to make saltpeter for the war effort, and she responds by telling him that not only has he neglected to tell them how saltpeter is made, but that the women have no intention of doing so until they receive straight pins. Till Then, they pledge their love to each other and Abigail disappears. The delegates tell John Adams—again—to sit down, but instead he goes off in search of Dr. Benjamin Franklin.