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The Emmy-Award winning HBO mini-series JOHN ADAMS is impressive in its own right with the talents of Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney in the lead roles. The series was based on the Pulitzer-prize winning book of the same name by historian David McCullough, and he served as an on-set advisor. How strange it looks to us now as the British crown chooses to use severe restraints and force to answer the protests of the Boston colonists who are being coerced into paying for Britain’s expenses. The advance of the redcoats looks like an invasion. But who cares about an invasion when the victims don’t seem to be worth getting involved?
At first, the other colonists are loathe to come to the aid of Boston. The problem doesn’t appear to apply to them. Many have never lived under any other system but one ruled by a central authority. They like the impression that they’re being protected by a parental figure. They understand the bowing and scraping that greases the political machine, and they don’t particularly care if the commoners don’t enjoy the same privileges as the wealthy. They don’t want conflict with an established power. But soon they can’t escape the fact that the British are invading more than Boston. Before long, the choice lies between independence and execution. Great powers expect to be obeyed.
John Adams is a lawyer who believes passionately in the rule of law as a measurement that should apply equally to everyone. He earns widespread respect. After the war, he believes he’s what was then called a Republican or someone who believes in a republic as the best form of independent government. His ego and awe for royal pomp occasionally fall into his way. The democracy he and Thomas Jefferson imagined compromises with those who are Federalists, including Alexander Hamilton, who insist a country must be run by a central power that knows better than the common man—especially about finance. George Washington refuses the royal grandeur some would force on him as the first president. He doesn’t want to be a despot. He fought to create a republic.
Abigail Adams is clearly a grounding force in John Adams’ life—his savvy critic and confidante. She notes that women are not represented as the fate of the new nation is debated—a sad state of affairs since so many wives are holding the farms and businesses of the colonies together while their husbands argue or fight. She runs the family farm, generating the family’s income, with only her children to help her for years on end while her husband toils in politics. In fact, alone, she must make the dangerous decision to “inoculate” herself and her children with live gooey virus pushed into a slit in their arms to give them a chance to evade gruesome death. She understands too well what she sees as the sin of slavery. The Adams’ children can only try to forgive their parents for leaving them to grow up so much on their own with nothing but duty to comfort them. One son eventually died of alcoholism.
The most difficult part of watching a depiction of the birth of the United States is that so many issues haven’t changed as much as those who fought and died dreamed they would. Did the people in the Ukraine imagine they could remain independent forever? We imagined we could.