Tag Archives: John Adams

Greatest Patriotic Films of All Time #2: John Adams

Join, or Die

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

Adams, Jefferson and Franklin…the creators of the Declaration.

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

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Greatest Patriotic Films Ever #7 –1776

1776

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress! For ten years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our BLOOD! And still, this Congress refuses to grant ANY of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God, what in hell are you waiting for?”

Long before HBO brought us the genius of John Adams there was another movie that showed how loveable the obnoxious and disliked second President of the United States was.

Unnamed Delegate: “Will someone shut that man up”
John Adams: “NEVER! NEVER!”

It’s a crazy idea that actually works. Turn the Second Continental Congress into a musical. As a musical this is not the strongest film you’ll ever find. In fact the musical numbers are kind of weak overall, but the film itself is quite strong. Primarily because so much of the time is spent covering the debates that occurred in the Continental Congress on whether or not to declare independence.

I first discovered this film in high school and this is where I began to see Adams as one of my greatest heroes (he may not have been the greatest President, but I would say he is possibly the greatest of the Founding Fathers.) The movie portrays Adams as arrogant, stubborn, obnoxious, disliked, principled to the point of being unwilling to budge on anything…and always right. Can’t imagine why I felt an immediate connection.

John Adams to God: “A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locust everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake I’d accept with some despair…but no, you sent us Congress, good god sir, was that fair?”

The film spends a great deal of time in the debate between Adam’s pro-independence forces and the pro-Royalist force spearheaded by Pennsylvanian John Dickenson (the only man who had the opportunity to sign the Declaration and refused to on objections that he couldn’t in “good conscience”…yes endorsing evil he used the words “good conscience”…If I believed in Hell I would guarantee you he would be sharing a spot with Brutus, Cassius, and Judas…oh, by the way, the man also refused to sign and was opposed to the Constitution. Why they didn’t shoot this treasonous SOB boggles my mind.) It is this debate that makes the movie so patriotic. We revel in the ideals and debates that gave birth to a nation of ideals.

Dickenson makes bizarre claims, as many loyalists did at the times, that there must be better ways to solve the problems with the crown (ignoring that when the government starts sending the army after you for pleading your rights, there are few options left. Dickenson even goes as far as questioning George III’s status as a tyrant.

John Dickenson: Mr. Jefferson, I have very little interest in your paper, as there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve all but heard the last of it, but I am curious about one thing. Why do you refer to King George as a… tyrant?
Thomas Jefferson: Because he *is* a tyrant.
John Dickenson: I remind you, Mr. Jefferson, that this “tyrant” is still your king.
Thomas Jefferson: When a king becomes a tyrant, he thereby breaks the contract binding his subjects to him.
John Dickenson: How so?
Thomas Jefferson: By taking away their rights.
John Dickenson: Rights that came from him in the first place.
Thomas Jefferson: All except one. The right to be free comes from nature.
John Dickenson: And are we not free, Mr. Jefferson?
Thomas Jefferson: Homes entered without warrant, citizens arrested without charge, and in many places, free assembly itself denied.
John Dickenson: No one approves of such things, but these are dangerous times.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Those who would give up some of their liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

(I know some Brits even object to this point, but if you ever get in an argument with anyone on this point you should remind them that Mad King George got so bad that he had to be effectively deposed and only ruled in name for the last 18 years of his reign. We Americans were just ahead of the curve in recognizing what a useless ponce he was).

Dickenson also made claims to tradition (a poor substitute to reason), “Do you expect us to forget Hastings and Magna Carta, Strongbow and Lionheart, Drake and Marlborough? “ (From a nation whose traditions also included The Anarchy, Richard II, Richard III, Bloody Mary, Charles I, James II, Cromwell, John…it’s also ironic that you would list the Magna Carta, a document creating new government restrictions on a tyrannical King…so really America was just living up to its British roots of not suffering tyranny very well.)

And of course the movie describes what makes America special among nations so well.

John Dickenson: Fortunately, the people maintain a higher regard for their mother country.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin: Higher, certainly, than she feels for them. Never was such a valuable possession so stupidly and recklessly managed, than this entire continent by the British crown. Our industry discouraged, our resources pillaged… first of all our very character stifled. We’ve spawned a new race here, Mr. Dickenson. Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We’re a new nationality. We require a new nation.

One of the more ironic portions of the film is that when needing to take out the critique of slavery to get the South to sign on Adams advocates to not take it out as slavery is an abomination to the nation. But Franklin and Jefferson win the day arguing that they must have a nation first if they are to ever liberate the slaves, that to stand on principle on this issue will mean slavery for everyone.

John Adams: Mark me, Franklin… if we give in on this issue, posterity will never forgive us.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin: That’s probably true, but we won’t hear a thing, we’ll be long gone. Besides, what would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We’re men, no more, no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed. First things first, John. Independence; America. If we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?

It’s painfully ironic that we have elevated them to Demi-god status. It probably was the wrong thing to do to take the line out, but it was the pragmatic thing, and it did lead to a nation that not only shed its own blood to end slavery within its own borders, but a nation that would shed its own blood to end tyranny in foreign lands because we do believe that “all men are created equal” and entitled to the right of liberty.

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