Tuesday, April 15, 2008

John Adams on HBO: 6: Flawed President and Flawed Father

People sometimes ask me why I'm so critical of John Adams - the real person in history, not the superb HBO series - and the answer is the damage done to, and near death of, our democracy brought by the Alien and Sedition Acts, signed into law by Adams. This grim episode, and Jefferson's protest that these acts trampled on the Constitution, were vividly portrayed in this 90-minute episode that covered the whole of Adams' Presidency.

But the episode brought to light something equally lamentable about Adams - pertaining to his family not his country. Charles, the reprobate son, is disowned by John Adams. His son-in-law is turned away when in financial need. It's not that our culture was so different then. It's that John Adams could not overcome his stern New England upbringing, and give his son the love and emotional support, his son-in-law the economic support, that they needed. John Adams meted out punishment instead - just as he did to his country by jeopardizing the First Amendment and its protections.

It's a measure of how superb Paul Giamatti's performance is as John Adams, that we feel anything akin to sympathy for the second President and father at all. Giamatti is just perfect for summoning the pain and humanity that one hopes Adams felt for these actions. It convinced me enough that I called them "lamentable," rather than despicable, in the paragraph above.

As I've said in previous reviews of this series, this is history on television on an entirely new, breathtaking plane.

The series concludes with the next episode.

How about a series about Thomas Jefferson, played by the outstanding Stephen Dillane.

See also: John Adams on HBO: Good Founding Father, Bad President ... John Adams 3 and 4: Jefferson and Space Travel of the Soul ... 5. Jousting of Ideas ... John Adams Concludes

Further reading ...

The Flouting of the First Amendment - my 2005 Keynote Address at Fordham University, in which I talk about the vying opinions of John Adams v. Thomas Jefferson...

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and the Future of the Information Revolution - my 1998 book, with more details on this time in history, and the roles of Adams and Jefferson

And ...

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