For my history movie, I decided to finally watch the entirety of John Adams. I’d caught one or two episodes back when I was in DC in the summer of 2008 but had never seen the entire miniseries. I started it on July 4th after I’d watched all the other “patriotic” movies I own (namely Independence Day and Live Free or Die Hard – I figured start with the explosions and move on to the diplomats). The story of our nation and its origins never ceases to impress me. It never should have worked; we were the ultimate underdogs and yet somehow, we pulled out of it victorious (thanks in no small part to a heaping dose of help from France). I was glad the miniseries kept the cerebral side of our independence, it is the side I find infinitely more interesting.
America, the Great Experiment, comes out ahead in this particular re-telling though they do not shy from the politics and underhanded dealings that resulted in her. I was sad the series skipped over the disaster of the Articles of the Confederation but as Adams was abroad at the time, it made sense in terms of plot though I find it fascinating that the first try didn’t take and we were still stubborn enough to try again. If nothing else, the miniseries makes you think on parts of history that were lines on a study guide once upon a time. The years Adams is president make much ado about the Alien and Sedition Acts. I had a vague memory learning a definition for them before my AP American History exam in 11th grade but it was fascinating to watch the consequences of signing versus not signing be argued out by Adams, his wife and his cabinet. They are mostly scorned in American history class if I recall correctly – acts that reduced civil liberties and put a gag on the American people and yet within the context of their creation, I understood why they seemed like a good idea at the time. If nothing else, the miniseries always portrays America as young, impulsive, and still testing her limits in the new world she created. While I can not condone the Acts themselves, I can better appreciate the reason Adams signed them.
However, John Adams is not only a history lesson; it is a series which portrays some of the most remarkable partnerships our country has ever known. Adams and his wife, Abigail. Adams and Thomas Jefferson, exact opposites in every sense whose friendship spans decades. You see the brashness of Alexander Hamilton (and come to understand why they wrote the Constitution specifically so he couldn’t become president) and the sage quietness of General George Washington. The kookiness of Benjamin Franklin is especially well portrayed by Tom Wilkinson. If nothing else, the miniseries made characters of names I had read in my history books a thousand times but have never connected them to anything other than their proper place on my timeline. And make me wish to see men and women of their ilk among us again. I feel we had need of them more than ever as we enter our 235th year, a birthday perhaps they could not fathom when they signed a declaration of independence so many years ago.