John Adams, Delegate for Massachusetts
Our Hero, so to speak. A Boston revolutionary who really hates shutting up, Adams' abrasive nature belies his good intentions and brilliant mind.
- Always Second Best: And he knows it. For all the work he does during this congress to get independence started, he despairs that he'll be forgotten because the history books will think Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Washington's horse did it.
- Anti-Hero: The fact that he's frequently described as "obnoxious and disliked" (and remember, he describes HIMSELF that way) says a lot about his heroic disposition. The directors' commentary says that he's a difficult role to cast, as he must be disliked by Congress but likable to the audience.
- Brutal Honesty: Finds Franklin sitting for a portrait. Franklin asks his opinion. Adams says "it stinks" to the artist.
- Good God!
- Burning the Ships: After the South walks out over slavery, the independence men are completely fed up with the whole business and ignore Adams' desperate attempts to drive them on, leaving him alone for "Is Anybody There?" During the song, Adams declares that he cannot give up because he's already "crossed the Rubicon", as far as he's concerned, and he won't stop until he realizes his dreams of a free America.
- Character Development: Zig-zagged. While they wait for Richard Lee to return with the proposal from Virginia, Adams takes Franklin's advice to heart and, despite great provocation, holds his peace, to the great benefit of his cause. But he cracks much more easily during the multi-day editing process for the Declaration than Jefferson, the actual writer.
- Composite Character: While he is largely the historical John Adams in his intelligence, standoffish attitude, lack of charisma and strained-but-happy family life, the character in the play has absorbed many aspects of his cousin Samuel Adams, including his radical politics, firebrand temper, and several very choice quotes about slavery.
- Determinator: Commitment!
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: During "Sit Down, John" he remarks "Good God! Consider yourselves fortunate that you have John Adams to abuse, for no sane man would tolerate it."
- In 1962, after losing the election for Governor of California, Richard Nixon told the press conference "You don't have Nixon to kick around any more because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference and it will be one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you".
- Eleven O'Clock Number: "Is Anybody There?" As it turns out, Lyman Hall was.
- Establishing Character Moment: He storms into Independence Hall, gives Congress a "Reason You Suck" Speech, and then musically demands that they debate independence. Congress as a whole either ignores him to continue a circular argument as to whether they should open up a window in the heat or keep them closed to keep out the flies, or exasperatedly tells him to sit down and shut up already.
- Happily Married: To Abigail. Many of the lyrics in their duets are taken from the actual letters they wrote.
- Hidden Depths:
- The Declaration committee is shocked when he says that he misses his wife physically as well as emotionally, given his prudish New England attitude. (It will not be nearly so much of a surprise to those who know the historical figures, however; John and Abigail flirted passionately in their letters, usually but not always with Classical allusions.)
- Similarly, Franklin is astonished to learn that John is an excellent dancer."We still do a few things in Boston, Franklin!"
- His regard for Jefferson. For all his bluster and demands, he sympathizes with him enough to send for Mrs. Jefferson and he repeatedly defends the Declaration not only because of its content but just because it's a damn fine piece of writing. John is so much of an egotist that the idea of someone else proposing independence is anathema to him, yet he praises Jefferson to the skies as specifically being more talented than him.
- Hypocrite: When John wants the slavery clause removed, South Carolina's Edward Rutledge calls him out, noting that even though the Northern states don't own slaves,note they make quite a profit from importing them into the Colonies just before the "Molasses to Rum" musical number:Edward Rutledge: Then what's that I smell floating down from the North? Could it be the aroma of hy-pocrisy? For who holds the other end of that filthy purse-string, Mr. Adams? Our northern brethren are feelin' a bit tender toward our slaves. They don't keep slaves, no-o, But they are willin' to be considerable carriers of slaves to others. They're willin', for the shillin' — or haven't y'heard, Mr. Adams? Clink! Clink!
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He is "obnoxious and disliked" (a phrase the real Adams used to describe how others viewed him), but he believes strongly in breaking from England's tyranny and is the only member of the core trio to really stick to his guns about ending slavery, until Rutledge notes in that even though he doesn't own slaves, he still benefits somewhat from the importation of slaves, and goes into the "Molasses to Rum to Slaves" number. He also clearly loves his wife and misses her, which give him the idea to send for Martha Jefferson to help Thomas break his writer's block.
- The McCoy: A rare instance where this element of the Freudian Trio is the protagonist. He wants independence now and he wants it done right. It takes a lot to make him bend on an issue. He is so insistent that independence is done the right way that when Hancock basically offers to circumvent the proper procedure because he "is from Massachusetts too," Adams tells him that as President of Congress, Hancock has to follow the rules.
- No Indoor VoiceAdams: Franklin! You heard what I suffered in there?
Franklin: Heard? Of course I heard — along with the rest of Philadelphia. Lord, your voice is piercing, John!
- Phrase Catcher: Franklin tags him as being "obnoxious and disliked" early on, which several other characters repeat verbatim over the course of the play. Adams himself uses it to great effect later when trying to corner someone else into writing the Declaration.
- Surrounded by Idiots: He has a whole song about Congress being a bunch of petty, pedantic and self-centered twits. Franklin calls him on this late in the play, pointing out that those men alone were selected by their colonies and insulting them alienates them from their cause.
- You Need to Get Laid: More subtly than Tom, but the play implies that his blowhard attitude is caused by how much he misses his wife and his frustration at having to live "like a monk in [his] cell."
Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Delegate for Pennsylvania
Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, wise man, and wise wit, extraordinaire. Like Adams, deeply devoted to freeing America from the British Crown, and much better at playing politics than Adams in the Congress.
- 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. And by the end of the play, he has Judge Wilson's measure. In the film, Franklin, whenever he isn't participating in the debates, is constantly observing and filing away the actions and reactions of the other delegates.
- 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.
- Gender Flip: In certain productions (especially school ones), Benjamin Franklin is one of the roles that is most frequently flipped to be played by a female, due to him being the only member of the main three characters who has no wife in the show.
- I Did What I Had to Do: Argues for Adams and Jefferson to yield to South Carolina's demand to remove the passages involving slavery from the Declaration. If they don't, the move to independence for the United States dies on the spot.Adams: Mark me, Franklin. If we give in on this issue, posterity will never forgive us!
Franklin: That's probably true, but we won't hear a thing, we'll be long gone. Besides, what would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We're men, no more no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed. First things first, John. Independence. America. If we don't secure that, what difference will the rest make?
- I Have No Son!: At the outset, the first Loyalist delegation from New Jersey is missing, and Hancock asks Franklin if he's heard anything from his son, who happens to be the Royal Governor of New Jersey. Franklin responds, "Son, sir? What son?" Eventually, the second pro-independence New Jersey delegation arrives, and the Rev. Witherspoon informs Franklin that his son is captured. The first words out of his mouth (once he knows his son is unharmed) is a delighted inquiry about "why [they arrested] the little bastard."note In Real Life, the father never forgave the son for serving the Crown.
- 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.
Thomas Jefferson, Delegate for Virginia
Adams wants him to write the Declaration. Jefferson, however, has much more important things on his mind - namely, his wife Martha.
- Establishing Character Moment: Dreamily staring out the window and thinking of home, when asked he offhandedly perfectly foretells the weather for the rest of Congress by sticking a wet finger out the window.
- Fire-Forged Friends: At the start of the play, he and Adams hardly know one another, and he readily joins the other delegates in shouting him down when he tries to demand the question of independence be put to a vote. Later, he comes to despise Adams for strong-arming him into writing the Declaration rather than letting him go home to his wife. But, between Adams arranging a, well, booty call between him and his wife, and the shared stressful experience of having the Declaration put before Congress, they end the play having formed the friendship for which both men would later be famous.
- 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 before Adams can arrange a conjugal visit.
- Hypocrite: No punches are pulled by the writers or characters regarding the fact that the man who wrote the phrase "All men are created equal..." owned countless slaves. And while he professes a desire to free them eventually in the play, historically, it never quite worked out.
- 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 before the start of the play. It lends enough weight to his speaking in support of Adams and Franklin's Declaration to cinch it for the rest of Congress.
- 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: Originally, 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: Before Martha visits, he can't even start on the Declaration. After Martha visits, he bangs out what Adams happily calls "a masterpiece of the American mind" in record time.
Richard Henry Lee, Delegate for Virginia
- 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 respected justice and politician in his own right. And he gets Put on a Bus to Virginia to serve as governor, something which never happened in history because his character's fictional silliness would undermine the more-serious tone of the later acts.
- Hurricane of Puns: Makes puns on his name constant-Lee.
- "I Am" Song: "The Lees of Old Virginia." Basically a laundry list of why he, his family, and Virginia are the greatest.
- Incoming Ham: Always announces he's soon to arrive with a hearty WOOOOOHOOOOO!
- 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.
- 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.
- Put on a Bus: Back to be the governor of Virginia. He's almost entirely done away with after about thirty minutes.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: A very early example. He leaves the Congress to serve as the governor of Virginia (something that did not happen in history) because the show's gradual slide from comedy to drama would be heavily-damaged by Lee's buffoonish presence.
- Skunk Stripe: The wig design in both the original Broadway production and the film; also an Actor Allusion, as that was how Holgate's hair was actually graying.
- 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."
Caesar Rodney, Delegate for Delaware
A staunch defender of independence, only possibly surpassed by John Adams. Suffers from skin cancer on his face, which he covers with a patch.
- Badass Grandpa: Rode 80 miles overnight to cast the deciding vote for Delaware while suffering from debilitating cancer.
- The Bus Came Back: Was Put on a Bus when his illness takes a turn for the worse but is brought back toward the end to break Delaware's tie
- Heroic Sacrifice: His midnight ride is portrayed as this, although in Real Life he didn't die for several more years.
- Put on a Bus: Misses half the movie because his illness gets worse. He comes back toward the end.
- Victorian Novel Disease: The period predates the Victorian era, but Caesar's cancer otherwise qualifies.
Col. Thomas McKean, Delegate for Delaware
A loud Scotsman, whose loud voice belies his soft heart.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Not a very effective one, granted.
- Book Dumb: He mistakes Rutledge's Latin sarcasm (tria juncta in uno!) for French.
- Large Ham: He's very loud and bombastic.
- Sarcasm-Blind: When Rutledge remarks on the "eternal peace and harmony" of Delaware's delegation, McKean is angrily confused because everyone knows they can't stand Read.
- Violent Glaswegian: His arguments with Read are at bombastic high volume, sometimes including threats. In the film, he seems to have brought a musket into the chamber, which he fires into the ceiling to break up the fight between Adams and Dickinson.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: At the very end, he and his personal nemesis Read are cracking jokes at one another's expense, and laughing at them all.
- What the Hell, Hero?: To Adams' request that he fetch the dying Rodney back to swing Delaware's vote to independence. McKean does it, but not happily."God, what a bastardly bunch we are!"
Stephen Hopkins, Delegate for Rhode Island
The oldest member of the Congress — except for Benjamin Franklin — and sole representative to Rhode Island. Committed to voting to the cause of independence, provided he doesn't drink enough rum to require an extended trip to the privy.
- The Alcoholic: Frequently shouts at McNair to get him more rum. He gets cut off early in his first scene, only to get his drinks back after settling the vote in favor of debating the question of independence.
- Dirty Old Man:Jefferson: And tonight, I leave for home.
Hancock: On business?
Jefferson: ...Family business.
Hopkins: Give 'er a flourish from me, young feller!
- Drunken Master: Claims that drinking rum helps to get a man's heart started in the morning.
- Grumpy Old Man: He's always pretty ornery, although the orneriness helps in voting for a debate on independence.
- In-Series Nickname: "Ol' Grape and Guts." Only mentioned once, but his fellow congressmen did actually call him that.
Rev. John Witherspoon, Delegate for New Jersey
- Big Damn Heroes: He gets the New Jersey delegation to the Congress just in time to prevent Dickinson and Rutledge from quashing the Independence resolution by calling the question when there are not enough votes to pass.
- Nice Guy: He's very pleasant and polite, unlike most of his colleagues.
- The Vicar: Along with being the congressional chaplain, he insists that a reference to Providence be added to the Declaration. He's also quite horrified to hear Washington's dispatch about the whoring and drinking in New Brunswick and rather walks into it:Witherspoon: There must be some mistake. I have an aunt who lives in New Brunswick!
Dickinson: [as Congress roars with laughter] You must tell her to keep up the good work!
Dr. Josiah Bartlett, Delegate for New Hampshire
- 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.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: Averted; he practiced medicine for 45 years in addition to being a noteworthy New Hampshire statesman.
- Name's the Same (In-Universe): The great-grandson of his great-grandson would later become President of the United States. (No, really — Aaron Sorkin explicitly said that President Josiah Edward "Jed" Bartlet was most definitely one of those Bartletts.)
- Stop Having Fun, Guys:Invoked. He proposes a piece of legislation to ban gambling, horse-racing, drinking, etc... and is immediately shouted down by the rest of Congress.
Roger Sherman, Delegate for Connecticut
- Book Dumb: Cites being unable to tell "a participle from a predicate" as proof of his inability to write the Declaration of Independence.
- Bookworm: Despite the above, he's seen reading a book in Congress a few times.
- Hero of Another Story: The real-life Sherman was actually more influential in the Constitutional Convention than he was here, though his influence isn't as well known as other founding fathers such as Madison. Moreover, he's the only founding father to have signed all four papers that led to the creation of the United States: the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
- Not So Above It All: Despite being one of the more serious members of Congress, he dances right alongside Franklin in "But Mr. Adams".
John Dickinson, Delegate for Pennsylvania (Paul Hecht (original Broadway), Donald Madden (film))
Our Antagonist, so to speak. A Philadelphia gentleman, Dickinson revels in being cool and conservative. The only man in Congress that's 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, and although that opposition is at least partly rooted in his private concern for his own wealth rather than any kind of public spirit, he is a genuine English patriot who loves his colony and his mother country and does not believe the rebellion is a war America can win. That last fact makes his willingness to join the Continental Army, in the end, all the more powerful.
- 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, and 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. While the play goes out of its way to make its fictional version of Dickinson sympathetic, the hardline conservative powerhouse of the musical is a far cry from the reasonable moderate he was in real life, in the service of giving the play a strong antagonistic figure for Adams to play against. For what it's worth, Dickinson was a signer of the Constitution.
- Hypocritical Humor: It's not uncommon for actors to sing the line "We sing Hosannah, Hosannah, in a sane and lucid manner, we are cool!" in a very angry, bombastic manner.
- Not So Different: Considers himself as patriotic as Adams, to the point of leaving Congress to join the Continental Army when the Declaration is ratified so that he can defend the new country.
- Upper-Class Twit: A pointed aversion. While Dickinson is a wealthy, upper-class landlord and "gentleman of leisure" in the model of the British aristocracy, he is highly intelligent, charismatic, and silver-tongued, and his lack of interest in representing the common people of America has clearly not dulled his capacity to manipulate or politic.
- 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 at first blush.
- 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, Delegate for South Carolina
A Southern plantation owner who 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.
- Age Lift: John Cullum was 39 in the original Broadway production and 42 in the film; the real Rutledge, at just 26, was the youngest signer of the Declaration.
- 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 led the opposition. But, as with Dickinson, the play needs to put a human face and voice to the single largest black mark on American history. Also, the real-life Rutledge eventually freed his slaves whereas Jefferson (a protagonist and the author of the anti-slavery plank) did not.
- In-Series Nickname: Hopkins calls him "Neddie."
- 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.
- Show Stopper: "Molasses to Rum" will do this. Especially when it's John Cullum with his soaring baritone.
- Southern Gentleman: Zig-zagged. He's initially quite genteel and polite, but he controls two-thirds of the Deep Southern caucus and is ruthless on the question of slavery the moment it comes up.
- Villain Has a Point: Of the central trio engineering the Declaration, one is a slave-owner himself, one represents the colony that is the most responsible of all for the horrors of the slave trade, and one is all too willing to compromise the ideals of liberty to get the thing out the door.
- 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 Bartlett is broken and horrified. "For the love of God, Mister Rutledge! Please!" And Adams, for once, can find nothing to say in rebuttal.
Judge James Wilson, Delegate for Pennsylvania
Dickinson's toady. Continually forgets that he cannot second Dickinson's motions, as they both come from the same state.
- The Ditherer: Judge Wilson, as portrayed in the play, is a colorless, weak-willed chameleon utterly dominated by Dickinson. Even his old court cases were all decided based entirely on precedent and the rules of order. However, at the end of the play, he finally makes the most fateful decision of his life, in an effort to avoid making an even more fateful one: he breaks with Dickinson and votes for independence to become just another voice in the crowd, rather than oppose the motion and accept the responsibility of being the man who prevented it.
- Dated History: 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, as the other characters endlessly mock and lampshade, as Caesar Rodney does when introducing him to Dr. Lyman Hall."Forgive me, but how can anyone see you, if you insist on standing in Mr. Dickinson's shadow?"
Dr. Lyman Hall, Delegate for Georgia
The newest arrival, the delegate from Georgia. He seems friendly but doesn't say much about his opinions on independence.
- Audience Surrogate: His introduction to Congress is a handy way for the writers to name and sketch out his colleagues.
- Chekhov's Gunman: He initially seems to be just a vehicle to introduce the other main characters. He's not.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Downplayed. Initially, though his private opinions are in support of independence, his state's are not, and since he's unsure what to do he decides to err on the side the people support. Towards the end, while reading the works of Burke, he decides that he owes his constituents his judgment rather than his obedience, and votes his convictions on the matter.
- Naïve Newcomer: He expects the Congress to be more impressive than it actually is.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: Discussed with Caesar Rodney, who asks if he's a doctor of medicine or theology.Hall: Both, Mr. Rodney. Which can be of service?
Rodney: By all means, the physician first. Then we shall see about the other!
- Renaissance Man: Early on, Caesar Rodney asks if he's a doctor of medicine or theology. He offhandedly admits to being both.
- Straight Man: The only delegate to avoid snarking, embarrassing, or humiliating behavior. He even manages to maintain face against an intimidating Rutledge.
- Wild Card: With no instructions from his colony, he's able to vote according to his own judgment. He walks out with the South but later returns to change his vote.
Samuel Chase, Delegate for Maryland
- Big Eater: He's always seen with a loaded plate on his desk. He's gotten stuck in his chair because he's so big.
- In-Series Nickname: Adams calls him "Old Bacon Face"
- Pet the Dog: He rushes in cheerfully, declaring to the Congress that Maryland planned to change its vote to be for independence. Unfortunately, he comes in right after the South walks out of the congress and the independence cause is at its Darkest Hour, making it an ineffective Hope Spot.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Of the major representatives opposed to independence at the start of the play, Chase is the least ideological. He freely admits that he wants independence, but is highly skeptical that it can be taken. He changes his tune after seeing the troops drilling in New Jersey.
- Pragmatic Villainy: He's only really on the anti-independence side because he doesn't believe it's possible to win against the British Empire.
Lewis Morris, Delegate for New York
The lead delegate from New York. Since they have no instructions from their legislature on how to vote, the result is that New York invariably abstains from any voting - leaving President John Hancock to wonder aloud why they bother to show up at all.
- Catchphrase: "New York abstains courteously!" He also makes sure to add a 'courteously' when Thomson confirmed New York's abstention.
- The Ditherer: Throughout the first half of the play, he abstains courteously even though New York is in danger of being invaded, resulting in some of the decisions being deadlocked with Hancock acting as the tiebreaker, and when Hancock asks him what goes on in New York, Morris replies that the chaotic and obstructive New York legislature never gave him any explicit instructions, and Hancock offers his sympathetic condolences.
- It's Personal: After his home gets destroyed by British troops and his sons enlist in the Continental Army, he supports the independence movement regardless of New York's wishes.The Hell with New York, Ill sign it anyway.
- 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.
Robert Livingston, Delegate for New York
Another delegate from New York, and a member of the declaration committee.
- Blue Blood: Part of the Livingston family, a prominent family in New York politics. Fun fact: one of his cousins signed the Declaration, while another signed the Constitution.note
- Demoted to Extra: Literally the only reason Livingston exists in the musical is that the real-life Livingston did indeed serve on the declaration committee (although, ironically enough, got recalled to New York before he could sign it). Outside "But Mr. Adams" he has no relevance to the story, what with Morris being the spokesperson for New York. In any other medium, they likely would have become a Composite Character. (For an idea of how demoted he was for the longest time his entry on this page didn't even exist!)
George Read, Delegate for Delaware
- The Dandy: He's noticeably better-dressed than Rodney and McKean, with his yellow clothing matching the Southern delegation—you see, Delaware straddles the Mason-Dixon (the northern part is in the orbit of Philadelphia, while the southern part is more like Maryland or Virginia).
- Foil: To Benjamin Franklin - Read is the only anti-independence member of the Delaware delegation, much like Franklin is the only pro-independence member of the Pennsylvania delegation.
- Token Evil Teammate: The only one in the Delaware delegation who's against independence - which is why Rodney comes back to Congress despite his illness to break the tie at the crucial vote.
Joseph Hewes, Delegate for North Carolina
- Historical Villain Upgrade: The real-life Hewes was actually in favor of independence (albeit because that's what his constituents wanted) and served on committees that were pro-independence. He was also instrumental in forming the early American navy.
- Skewed Priorities: He asks Jefferson why the Declaration of Independence doesn't address deep-sea fishing rights, provoking an outburst from Adams over the continual amendments the congress proposes to change the declaration.
- Yes-Man: When called to vote, he always "respectfully yields" to South Carolina.
John Hancock, President of the Second Continental Congress
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). Also continually bothered by flies, as shown by his constant flyswatting.
- Berserk Button: Hearing that New York abstains...courteously! He nearly slaps Morris with the flyswatter and later roars at him.
- Deadpan Snarker: When he's not on the verge of an emotional breakdown due to the heat or the intransigence of the rest of Congress, this is his standard setting.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: After "Molasses To Rum."Hancock: McNair.
McNair: [exasperated] Oh I know, the flies.
Hancock: No. The rum.
- Only Sane Man: He's more frustrated with Congress than Adams is. Especially with New York constantly abstaining.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: He's for independence, but he also breaks the tie in favor of unanimity, rightly pointing out that not having it would tear apart the country right from its intended inception. Later, Adams entreats him to stay this way after Hancock offers to use his position in the debate's Darkest Hour.
- Running Gag: Swatting flies between words.
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: "Mister Morris... WHAT IN HELL GOES ON IN NEW YORK?!"
Charles Thomson, the Congressional Secretary
The straight-laced, somewhat prissy Secretary of Congress, it is his responsibility to take roll and run the votes. He's also the de-facto voice of General Washington, as it is Thomson who has the unique "honor" of reading aloud the general's dismal dispatches from the battlefield.
- Beleaguered Bureaucrat: He gets visibly fed-up with Congressional antics and continual interruptions."Oh for heaven's sake, let me get through it once!"
- Bearer of Bad News: He's the one who's charged with reading George Washington's relentlessly gloomy dispatches.
- Hidden Depths: He's developed a feeling of admiration for and kinship with General Washington after reading so many of his messages.
- Take a Third Option: Near the end, Adams asks if Thomson stands with him or Dickinson. Thomson's response? "I stand with the General."
Andrew McNair, the Congressional Custodian
As most of the delegates are landed gentlemen of property, Andrew McNair is our chief depiction of the common working man of the era. Beleaguered and put upon by all the requests the delegates make for rum, and to open (or close) windows, he goes about his duty with a certain air of detachment. He's far friendlier to those closer to his station, like his nameless assistant, or The Courier, whom he calls "General."
- 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!"
- If I Want Your Opinion: At one point, he tries to butt into a debate to mention that he's not all that hot on "the United States of America" as a name for a country. John Hancock grumpily shoos him off on the ground that he's not actually a delegate and doesn't get to voice his opinion.
- It Will Never Catch On: McNair thinks "The United States of America" is a poor name for a new nation.
- No Hero to His Valet: When his assistant tells the Courier he's planning to join the Continental Army, McNair snarks that he doesn't have to fight, he's in Congress, and points out how eager the delegates are to send others to their deaths, yet reluctant to go themselves.
- 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!"
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.
- Small Role, Big Impact: She only appears in three scenes total, yet it's because of her that the audience sees a more human side of Adams-and it's her Hope Spot of sending the saltpeter that gets Adams his Heroic Second Wind to keep fighting to sway the votes for independence.
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality: She never visited hubby in Philadelphia. (The real reason Jefferson was so desperate to see her was that Martha was ill from a miscarriage, complicated by what's thought to be diabetes.)
- Happily Married: To Tom, which she sings about at length.
- Leitmotif: "He Plays the Violin", natch.
- Sickeningly Sweethearts: Snogs Jefferson long enough to completely ignore Franklin and Adams at their first meeting and completely forget them until the next day, so busy is she being swept up into Jefferson's arms for a makeout session.
- You Need to Get Laid: This was the entire reason Adams sent for her: the sooner Jefferson sees his wife, the sooner he'd start writing the Declaration.
- Darker and Edgier: "Mama, Look Sharp" is sung from the point-of-view of a minuteman (not even a trained soldier, really) dying alone.
- In-Series Nickname: McNair affectionately calls him "General," Washington's rank at the time. Courier protests he's not even a corporal, but McNair holds him in much higher regard than the actual commanders in the field.
- No Name Given: He's one of three characters that were created rather than taken from the historical record, so he's only known by his role.
- 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 tromping in and out without any lines. Then he sings "Mama, Look Sharp," reminding everyone that the Revolution is not just about a bunch of rich, irritable gentry arguing semantics in a hot room.
(drumroll) George Washington, General of the Continental Army
- The Eeyore: His letters to Congress are always about the miserable state of the Continental Army and its dim hopes of ever winning any battles.Col. Thomas McKean: That man would depress a hyena.
- The Ghost: Only enters the play via his dispatches.
- Mood Whiplash: Played for Laughs. Congress always groans when the Courier comes in because they know Washington is going to depress them regardless of whatever they were doing beforehand.
- Running Gag: He always signs his dispatches "Your Obedient," — drumroll — "G. Washington."
- (The PAINTER goes)
- Living Prop: His two not-historical brethren, Courier and Leather Apron both have lines, even if they aren't a lot, and Courier gets a song all to himself. Painter, on the other hand, is only mentioned once in the text, and it's a stage direction that tells him to leave the scene after being in it for barely even a moment.