Friday, July 04, 2008

Spend the Fourth of July with John Adams

The Gruntleds have just finished watching "John Adams," the excellent miniseries that ran on HBO, now rentable (thank you, Netflix). Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney do a superb job in the central roles of John and Abigail Adams, and the rest of the cast and script are really fine. I thought David Morse did a particularly good job in the hard role of making George Washington a man and not just an icon.

What I found especially gripping were the debates in Congress about independence. Watching that cranky bunch of localists debate whether it was just to make revolution, and whether it was wise to make this new thing, a republic, brought home to me that the choice of independence was not obvious, and the people who opposed it were not blind reactionaries. As a centrist and an institution builder, I would have been deeply torn about the wisdom of independence and revolutionary war. I suspect that I would have been working for a compromise and reconciliation to the end of June in 1776.

I think the larger picture is that Britain was always destined to bring the American colonies under tighter control just as soon as it was practical. American liberties, from Jamestown to the French and Indian War, were the result of sloth, distraction, and the sheer logistical challenge of governing people across an ocean in the age of sail. There was never a British constituency for the idea of American liberty.

Well, perhaps there was a covert constituency, at that. Burke, as an Irish MP, could sympathize with the idea that one People really did have a right to govern themselves. And I have a suspicion that the Howe brothers, admiral and general, deliberately held off from crushing the American army at its weakest point. Perhaps those free British gentlemen saw the point being made by those other free British gentlemen in Philadelphia 232 years ago.


Stushie said...

It was a great series and Paul Giamatti (?) was excellent. I'd like to see the same treatment being given to John Quincey Adams, basically because he is one of my favorite Presidents and an amazing statesman.

Gruntled said...

This series made me put the '70s PBS series "The Adams Chronicles" on my Netflix list. That it is the only extended film treatment that I know of for J.Q. Adams.

Mac said...

Truly a great series. I enjoyed the depiction of the political struggles in the early years of the Republic--especially Hamilton's influence, cut short on the dueling ground. How different (and not necessarily for the good) might our history have been if he had lived.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I spent the evening of the Fourth watching the first two parts of John Adams. Imagine the looks on our faces as we realized we were hearing the noises of the local fireworks display punctuating the reading of the Declaration in Philadelphia and in the Adams home. The series is indeed a fine one and we are eager to see the subsequent episodes.