Unite or Die
Appeal to Heaven
Liberty or Death
Don’t Tread on Me
These are the phrases that one sees during the credits for HBO’s John Adams (one wonders what happened to a network that could bring us great TV like Rome and John Adams that it has fallen to The Newsroom and Bill Maher so quickly). But I think part of this film’s greatness comes from its director, Tom Hooper. Hooper would later give us the great work of British patriotism, The King’s Speech, and is currently filming Les Miserables which speaks to French patriotism…let’s hope Hooper stops his world tour as films that speak to German patriotism tend to end badly for Poland.
Now there are numerous things in this seven part series to be proud of. The least of which is an obnoxious, suspected and unpopular man with his outspoken wife doing anything and everything in their power and sacrificing everything they have to constantly do what they know ethics and morals dictate not just for their own lives but for the fate of their nation. A liberal acquaintance of mine once tried to tell me that the deep love of the Adams was a Hollywood invention, that no man from that era would have held as his chief confidant a woman…clearly this ignorant wretch never had read the letters that John and Abigail wrote often to each other (In reality the show should have been named John and Abigail Adams as few men in history have so relied upon their wives as equals, partners, and true loves as much as John Adams did…which maybe why for all his fault he is possibly the most enviable of the Founding Fathers.). And these letters are quoted heavily in the movie:
“My Dearest Friend,
Whether I stand high or low in the estimation of the world, my conscience is clear. I thank God I have you for a partner in all the joys and sorrows, all the prosperity and adversity of my life. To take a part with me in the struggle.” –John Adams to Abigail Adams
“Should I draw you the picture of my heart, you would know with what indescribable pleasure I have seen so many scores of years roll over our heads, with an affection heightened and improved by time. Nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree effaced from my mind the image of the dear, untitled man to whom I gave my heart. You could not be, nor did I wish to see you, an inactive spectator.” –Abigail Adams to John Adams
In their letters she was his “best friend” and his “Portia” to her, he as her “Lysander” (see Shakespeare if you don’t get the references). I hate to be really mean to other nations, but tell me which heads of state of any other power have had not just a position that was enviable, but a personal life that is almost the definition of what we want in our significant other. And I may be reaching here, but for all of our problems in society, past and present, at least to me America seems to breed more of these true loves than other nation.
While probably not the greatest of presidents, (you’ll never be remembered for keeping America out of a war it couldn’t afford to fight at the time, only for the wars you get the nation into) there is the fact that it’s nice to think that as lacking humility Adams may have been, when he was in an office it was the good of the nation, not himself that took first priority (even if his abrasive nature may have made many an enemy).
Or that here is a man dedicated to liberty above all other things.
“We have a right to [our liberties] derived form our maker.”
But, of course it is the second episode, “Independence” that stirs the strings of patriotism the most for me. And for obvious reasons—it is this episode where the Declaration of Independence is created and adopted. I know I am very odd, but I cannot read or hear the Declaration of Independence with crying. It is a singular achievement of man and the divine working in harmony…or as the character of Adams puts it:
“This is something all together unexpected, not only a Declaration of our Independence, but of the right of all men.”
And this is what America is supposed to be, not just a nation out for ourselves, but a beacon, a promise, and a hope that one day liberty will reign not just in America but the world over and that tyranny will only be found in history books.
But what also makes this section so stirring is the arguments during the Continental Congress for Independence against John Dickenson and his cowardly and treasonous ilk (at one point in the episode it becomes clear that Abigail would just as well shoot the man for opposing independence if she were to go down to Philadelphia…it’s sad no one in real life had her conviction and wisdom).
“I see hope. I see a new nation ready to take its place in the world—not an empire, but a Republic. And a Republic of
laws, not men. Gentlemen, we are in the vey midst of revolution—the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world. How few of the human race have ever had the opportunity of choosing a system of government for themselves and their children. I am not without apprehensions, gentlemen, but the end we have in sight is worth more than all the means. I believe, sirs, that the hour is come, my judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready to stake upon it. While I live let me have a country. A free country. ”
This film makes clear Adams’ vision that America and its promise of liberty is worth the fight. Of course what also strikes me is his statement:
“There are persons in Philadelphia, to whom a ship is dearer than a city, and a few barrels of flour dearer than a thousand lives. Other men’s lives.”
It’s good to know that my current intellectual (I use that word loosely in reference to my opponents) battles with the un-American tripe that is isolationists, cowards, and Paulbots, that their kind isn’t just a recent phenomenon but rather a sickness that has been around for years. And it’s good to know they’re losing power—before they almost destroyed America before it began, and delayed our entry into WWII to save people from genocide…now they’re just an annoying fringe. Maybe within a generation their evil will be as dead as John Dickenson would been if he had been justly shot.
But it is also one of the last scenes that stirs my patriotism. Adams’ last words. His last words in the series and in real life really were:
“Thomas Jefferson survives!” (even though Jefferson had died 2 hours earlier. Both died on July the 4th, 1726, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. Skeptics would call it coincidence, patriots a higher message in that.)
I’ve always liked to think that Adams, at the threshold of this world and the next, actually knew that the man was dead…but his vision “that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among these the right to life, liberty, ad the pursuit of Happiness” not only survived in that moment but for all moments to come (but then again I am a hopeless patriot and man of faith).
My dearest friend whether I stand high or low in the estimation of the world, my conscience is clear. I thank God I have you for a partner in all the joys and sorrows, all the prosperity and adversity
Should I draw you the picture of my heart scores of years
“Oh, posterity. You will never know how much it cost us to preserve your freedom. I hope that you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.” –John Adams