The Spirit of '76 (1917 film)

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The Spirit of '76
File:Ad for 1917 silent film The Spirit of '76.jpg
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Directed by Frank Montgomery
Produced by Robert Goldstein
Written by Robert Goldstein
George L. Hutchin
Starring Adda Gleason
Howard Gaye
Chief Dark Cloud
Cinematography J. C. Cook
Continental Producing Company
Distributed by State Rights
Release dates
Running time
9-12 reels
Country United States
Language Silent

The Spirit of '76 (1917) was a controversial silent film that depicted both factual and fictional events during the American Revolutionary War. The film was directed by Frank Montgomery and produced and written by Robert Goldstein. Goldstein would later go to Federal prison for violating the Espionage Act, because of scenes depicted in the film. No prints of the movie have been known to survive, and it is categorized as a lost film.


A romance between King George III of England and a Quaker girl, Catherine, who becomes his morganatic wife, forms the early part of the story. Catherine is really half Indian, being the daughter of a French adventurer and an Indian woman, adopted and brought to England by a Quaker voyager. The hardships of the American colonists are shown and their rebellion against the English rule. In this rebellion, Catherine sees a chance to avenge herself upon the King, who has legally married a German princess. She goes to America and becomes a power over a tribe of Indians. One of her aides is her own brother, who had been adopted by a colonist. Brother and sister are unaware of the relationship until the close of the story. The gallant fight which the Americans under General Washington wage against the English troops and the Indians under Catherine's lead forms a thrilling phase of the story and the chief incidents with which every American is familiar are dramatically set forth. In addition, there are several minor plots and romances, some of which end happily, others tragically, when the war is over and the fight for freedom won.

Motography (1917)


  • Adda Gleason - Catherine Montour
  • Howard Gaye - Lionel Esmond
  • George Chesborough - Walter Butler
  • Chief Dark Cloud - Joseph Brant
  • Doris Pawn - Madeline Brant
  • Jack Cosgrove - George III
  • Norval McGregor - Lorimer Steuart
  • Jane Novak - Cecil Steuart
  • William Colby - Sir John Johnson
  • Lottie Cruez - Peggy Johnson
  • Chief Big Tree - Gowah
  • William Freeman - Lord Chatham
  • William Lawrence - Captain Boyd
  • William Beery - George Washington
  • Ben Lewis - Benjamin Franklin
  • Jack McCready - Tim Murphy


The film was produced by Robert Goldstein (born September 21, 1883), a California native of German Jewish ancestry, and a costume supplier in Los Angeles. Goldstein outfitted the cast of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), and was reportedly inspired by Griffith's film to produce a cinematic interpretation of the American Revolution.[1] Griffith initially encouraged and cooperated with Goldstein, but later distanced himself from that project in favor of pursuing his own treatment of the subject, the 1924 film America.[2]

The Spirit of '76 depicted multiple atrocities committed by the British side during the war, including soldiers bayoneting babies and raping unarmed women, the Wyoming massacre, and the Cherry Valley massacre.[3] It also contained scenes with no known factual basis, such as a physical assault on Benjamin Franklin by King George III, and a sexual liaison between the king and Catherine Montour — possibly based on his supposed (and equally fictitious) relationship with Hannah Lightfoot.[2]

The film premiered in Chicago in May 1917 — just one month after the United States entered World War I on the side of Britain. The head of Chicago's police censorship board, Metallus Lucullus Cicero Funkhouser, confiscated the film at the behest of the Justice department on grounds that it generated hostility toward Britain. Goldstein trimmed the offending scenes and received federal approval to continue the Chicago run; but the film premiered in Los Angeles a few months later with the deleted scenes restored. After an investigation, the government concluded that Goldstein's action constituted "aiding and abetting the German enemy", and seized the film once again.

Goldstein was charged in federal court with violating the Espionage Act. At trial, the U.S. prosecutor argued that as the war effort demanded total Allied support, Goldstein's film was seditious on its face. Goldstein was convicted on charges of attempted incitement to riot and to cause insubordination, disloyalty, and mutiny by U.S. soldiers then in uniform as well as prospective recruits, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Implications were made throughout the trial that Goldstein was a German spy, although no evidence was presented in support of that accusation.[4] The judgment was later upheld by an appellate court. Goldstein's attorneys were unable to argue for protection under the First Amendment because the Supreme Court had ruled in 1915 that movies lacked such protection.[2] (That ruling was overturned in 1952.) His sentence was later commuted to three years by President Wilson.[5]


After his release from jail, Goldstein tried and failed to re-establish himself as a filmmaker in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, and England (which refused him a visa). Eventually he landed in Germany, where he was equally unsuccessful. His biographer, Anthony Slide, could locate no communications from him after 1935, and thought it likely that he perished in a Nazi concentration camp.[6]

However, after Slide's book was published a telegram, sent from New York City in 1938, was discovered. In the telegram, Goldstein referred to "my enforced return [to the U.S.], three years ago..." suggesting that the Germans had deported him in 1935. His fate after 1938 is unknown.[7]


In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Prof. James Loewen notes that Goldstein's prosecution was consistent with Wilson's targeting anyone suspecting of holding anti-British views, which the president claimed gave aid to Germany.

See also


  1. Kauffman, B (9 June 2000). Muskets and Misfires. Wall Street Journal archive. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The Unluckiest Man in Movie History (13 June 2000). archive. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  3. Wollstein, Hans J. "Spirit of '76 (1917)". The New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. The Unluckiest Man in Hollywood, Part 2 (30 June 2000). archive. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  5. "Revive 'Spirit of '76,' Film Barred in 1917" (PDF). The New York Times. July 14, 1921. Retrieved March 30, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Slide, A. Robert Goldstein and "The Spirit of '76". New York, 1993, Scarecrow Press, p. 262. ISBN 0810826747.
  7. The Unluckiest Man in Movie History, Part 3 (10 July 2000). archive. Retrieved 30 September 2013.

Further reading

  • Selig, Michael. "United States v. Motion Picture Film The Spirit of’76: The Espionage Case of Producer Robert Goldstein (1917)." Journal of Popular Film and Television (1983) 10#4 pp: 168-174. online
  • Slide, Anthony. Robert Goldstein and "The Spirit of '76" (1993)

External links