"I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!"
Our Hero, so to speak. A Boston revolutionary who really hates shutting up, Adams' abrasive nature belies his good intentions and brilliant mind.Exactly What It Says on the Tin
- Actually Pretty Funny: Dickinson wins in a snark-off early on. Franklin laughs the loudest. (Ironically, this is because da Silva was irritated that Dickinson's final line was added and wanted Franklin to "win" by showing he was above getting irritated.)
- Chessmaster: He plays Lee like a fiddle in the beginning by getting him to go to Virginia, get a motion for independence, and have Lee think it was his idea all along to avoid owing him a favor.
- Cool Old Guy: This is Ben Franklin, America's original Cool Old Guy.
- Deadpan Snarker: As good as most of the other Founders are with witty retorts, Franklin was the master.
- Dirty Old Man: And still quite the charmer.
- Eccentric Mentor: Tries to teach John how to politic more effectively, but John is annoyed by Franklin's frivolity.
- I Have No Son: When told by the arriving New Jersey delegates that they had arrested Franklin's Loyalist son, Franklin nearly says this word for word. In Real Life, the father never forgave the son for serving the Crown.
- The Obi-Wan
- The Spock: Franklin is emotionally invested in independence, but he tries to moderate Adams' attitude and is more willing to deal and compromise with others for the sake of the overall cause.
Adams wants him to write the Declaration. Jefferson, however, has much more important things on his mind - namely, his wife Martha.
- Gentleman Snarker: Subtle, but there.
Adams: [referring to the lack of progress on the Declaration] You've had a whole week, man! The entire Earth was created in a week!
Jefferson: Someday, you must tell me how you did it.
- Happily Married: To his wife Martha; getting home to visit her preoccupies him immensely.
- The Kirk: But not the protagonist. He's more emotional than Franklin, but not nearly as hotheaded as John Adams and thus more able to accept the necessity of compromise.
- The Quiet One: Adams claims never to have heard him string three sentences together.
- Refused The Call: It takes Adams and Franklin to convince him to stay and write the Declaration... and it still takes Adams' effort to bring Mrs. Jefferson to Philadelphia to resolve the entire matter.
- Sickeningly Sweethearts: With Martha to the degree that it impedes his writing ability.
- Writer's Block: He can't even get a start on the Declaration. He tosses aside blank sheets and eventually the whole pad of paper.
- You Need to Get Laid: Once Martha visits, his writer's block is cured.
Abigail Adams (Virginia Vestoff)
Our Hero's sensible, level-headed wife. Also wants pins
- the sewing kind.
- Deadpan Snarker: Which makes her well-suited for John.
- Determined Homesteader's Wife: She capably managed the farm while Adams was away at Congress and turned a profit on it in Real Life, despite her gloomy letters in the musical.
- Closer to Earth: She does her best to bring down John from his rages and get him going again when he's despondent.
- Happily Married: Misses her husband very much.
- Serious Business: The pin shortage in Massachusetts. Which it really is when you've got growing children and live in an era when you have to make your own clothing.
John Dickinson (Donald Madden)
Our Antagonist, so to speak. A Philadelphia gentleman, Dickinson revels in being cool and conservative. The only man in Congress able to match wits with Adams. Dead-set against Independence, but "regards America no less than does Mr Adams." Proves it.
- Anti-Villain: Although he vehemently opposes independence for the whole show, it's because he truly believes that they still owe something to England and declaring war would be a disaster.
- Gentleman Snarker: In speech and appearance, he's much more refined than Adams, but he's no less sarcastic.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: The passage from "On the Necessity of Taking Up Arms" that Adams quotes was actually written by Dickinson, who was Jefferson's co-author.
- Additionally, the real John Dickinson actually abstained from both debating and voting, and did nothing more than respectfully present his sentiments before official debate over independence even began.
- Not So Different: Considers himself as patriotic as Adams, to the point where he leaves Congress for the Army when the Declaration is ratified so that he can defend the country.
- Villain Has a Point: Well, it was verging on impossible for a collection of colonies with a ragtag army to beat what was then the greatest military in the Western world and the greatest navy ever to rule the seas. It's only with the benefit of hindsight that Adams' plan looks like anything other than lunacy.
- Villain Song: "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men" is a very cynical take on the common man and focuses on the material reasons they should stay at peace.
- Worthy Opponent: He gets a standing ovation when he leaves Congress - instigated by Adams, of all people. (This goes to Adams being a Jerk with a Heart of Gold; Adams realized that Dickinson really was doing what he thought was right and was being gracious in victory.)
Edward Rutledge (John Cullum)
A Southern plantation owner from South Carolina. Gives possibly the most epic What the Hell, Hero?
known to musical theatre in the form of "Molasses to Rum." The youngest man in Congress - except for Ben Franklin.
- Darker and Edgier: His song, in which he gives a one-man demonstration of a slave auction.
- Gentleman Snarker: There really is no other way to be in these times!
- Historical Villain Upgrade: There is no solid historical evidence that Rutledge specifically opposed the slavery clause, much less lead the opposition.
- Large Ham: Not at first, but when the debate turns to slavery he grabs hold of Congress and doesn't let go.
- Man in White: The Southern delegates in general wear lighter-colored clothing, but Rutledge is their leader, and his signature song is quite unsettling.
- Not So Different: When Adams and Bartlett condemn the slave trade, Rutledge reminds them, brutally, that it's northern businessmen who carry slaves to the South in the first place.
- Southern Gentleman: A veneer. He puts on a show of politeness, but he controls the Southern caucus and is ruthless on the question of slavery.
- What the Hell, Hero?: "Molasses to Rum" is this, in song form, to Adams and the northern colonies in general. Rutledge points out that for all their moral objections to slaves on plantations, it's Boston ships that are sailing to Africa.
- Even stone-faced Bartlet is broken and horrified. "My God Mister Rutledge! Please!" And Adams, for once, can find nothing to say in rebuttal.
- Show Stopper: "Molasses to Rum" will do this. Especially when it's John Cullum with his soaring baritone.
Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate)
A Virginia Ham
of epic proportions. Performs this role magnificent-Lee
- Evil Sounds Deep: Subverted for comic effect. The role is written for a bass baritone.
- Glad I Thought of It: Franklin leads him on by lamenting how they just need to find a Virginian who can propose independence in place of Adams.
- Historical Downgrade: Franklin's manipulating Lee into proposing independence is entirely fictional. Lee was a very capable and respectful Justice and politician in his own right.
- Hurricane of Puns: Makes puns on his name constant-Lee.
- Large and In Charge: Often cast this way. Ron Holgate, the original Lee, is six feet three; Merwin Foard, the Broadway revival's Lee, is even taller, at six feet five.
- Large Ham: "Forwaaaard-hooooooooo!" He even tries to come back and continue his song until Adams and Franklin push him offstage.
- Show Stopper: "The Lees of Old Virginia," which explains the Tony nod. It was written this way because the next thirty minutes of the show had no music, so they needed a number that would carry the audience through until "But, Mr. Adams."
- Minor Character, Major Song: Ron Holgate got a Tony Award for it. Lee leaves the musical right before the Declaration plot kicks into gear, having been appointed as governor of Virginia. In the original production, he's never seen again after about the first hour; revivals frequently sneak him back in for the signing at the very end.
- "I Am" Song: "The Lees of Old Virginia." Basically a laundry list of why he, his family, and Virginia are the greatest.
The long-suffering president of Congress. Too hot - literally. Philadelphia is steaming
in the summer. (It really is—the summers are hot, and though it's too far from the sea to get a decent breeze, the Delaware River provides oceanic humidity).
Delegate from Delaware. Staunch defender of independence.
- Badass Grandpa: Rode 80 miles overnight to cast the deciding vote for Delaware while suffering from debilitating cancer.
- Heroic Sacrifice: His midnight ride is portrayed as this, although in Real Life he didn't die for several more years.
Judge James Wilson
Dickinson's toady. Continuously forgets that Pennsylvania cannot second its own motion.
- History Marches On: When the play was written, it was considered as good an interpretation of the historical record as any. Then new sources became available, and it turns out Wilson was probably hedging his bets the same way Lyman Hall was.
- Running Gag: Trying to second Dickinson's motions.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Dickinson protests the use of the word "tyrant" in the Declaration and rhetorically asks Wilson if he considers George III a tyrant. Wilson actually starts to disagree until Dickinson gives him a Death Glare, so he lamely finishes by saying "he's not a tyrant... in Pennsylvania."
- Yes-Man: To Dickinson, but see History Marches On.
Dr. Lyman Hall
The new delegate from Georgia. He seems friendly, but doesn't say much about his opinions on independence.
Col. Thomas McKean
A loud Scotsman. Also from Delaware. His loud voice belies his soft heart.
- The Dandy: He's noticeably better-dressed than Rodney and McKean, with his yellow clothing matching the Southern delegation—you see, Delaware literally straddles the Mason-Dixon (the northern part is in the orbit of Philadelphia, while the southern part is more like Maryland or Virginia).
- Token Enemy Minority: He's the only anti-independence member of the Delaware delegation.
- Yes-Man: When called to vote, he always "respectfully yields" to South Carolina.
- Heroic BSOD: Expresses the sentiments of the whole Northern bloc after "Molasses to Rum" when he stops the song with "For the love of God, Mr. Rutledge, please!" The writers have said that the correct interpretation of this line is not exasperation but desperation.
- Name's the Same: The great-grandson of his great-grandson would later become President of the United States. (No, really — Aaron Sorkin explicitly said that President Jed Bartlet was most definitely one of those Bartletts.)
- “Stop Having Fun” Guys: He proposes a piece of legislation to ban gambling, horse-racing, drinking, etc... and is immediately shouted down by the rest of Congress.
Rev. James Witherspoon
- The Alcoholic: Frequently shouts at McNair to get him more rum.
- Drunken Master: Claims that drinking rum helps him.
- Grumpy Old Man: He's always pretty ornery, although the orneriness helps in voting for a debate on independence.
- In-Series Nickname: "Grape and Guts." Only mentioned once, but his fellow congressmen did actually call him that.
- Big Eater: He's always seen with a loaded plate on his desk.
- Book Dumb: Cites being unable to tell "a participle from a predicate" as proof of his inability to write the Declaration of Independence.
- Catch Phrase: "New York abstains courteously!"
- It's Personal: After his home gets destroyed by British troops and his sons enlists in the Continental Army, he supports the independence movement regardless of New York's wishes.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Well, more like his state, but states were considered similar to countries at the time anyway; he abstains from voting because New York didn't actually give him instructions on whether or not to vote for independence.
- Darker and Edgier: "Mama, Look Sharp" is sung from the point-of-view of a minuteman (not even a trained soldier, really) dying alone.
- No Name Given: He's the only character who was not derived from history and as such is not named.
- Bearer of Bad News: Seeing as how he's always carrying distraught messages from George Washington.
- Minor Character, Major Song: He spends most of the show walking in and out without any lines. Then he sings "Mama, Look Sharp," reminding everyone that the Revolution is not just about a bunch of irritable men arguing semantics.
- Beleaguered Assistant: To the whole of Congress, who are forever shouting at him to open or close windows or fetch rum.
- Catchphrase: "Aww, suh-weet Jesus!
- Servile Snarker: On watching the conservative caucus sweep imperiously out at the conclusion of their number: "How'd you like to try and borrow a dollar off one of them!"
Martha Jefferson (Blythe Danner)
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality: She never visited hubby in Philadelphia. (The real reason Jefferson was so desperate to see her was because Martha was ill from a miscarriage, complicated by what's thought to be diabetes.)
- Happily Married: To Tom, which she sings about at length.
- Sickeningly Sweethearts: Snogs Jefferson long enough to completely forget and completely ignore ever meeting Franklin and Adams until the next day.