Saturday, July 2, 2011

Consider John Adams.

It's July 4 Weekend here in the good ol' US of A - a time when I like to ponder our founding fathers and mothers and the tremendous risks they took for a nation in its infancy. It may be something most of us don't ponder often enough.

I encourage everyone to watch HBO's miniseries, John Adams, based on the writings of David McCullough. McCullough is probably one of the finest American history writers around. All of my history nerd friends love this series because the costuming is outstanding,  and the finer details of daily life in the 18th century are attended to, which means we can actually enjoy a historically-based movie without feeling the need to pick it apart. (Because believe me, we will.) Not only that, I think the series really brings home the reality of the grittiness of 18th century life. It was hard. It was dirty. There was no Internet, no TV, no flush toilets or indoor plumbing. If you wanted to contact someone in another town, you had to put quill to paper and write them a Real Letter, which they weren't guaranteed to receive. And if you caught the smallpox, you were likely to die, or at least come closer than you'd prefer.

In spite of his many accomplishments, John Adams often gets short shrift in American history, probably because he was just a normal, crabby, hard-working guy. He didn't have the charisma of Jefferson or Washington, and he was known to be somewhat ill-tempered. He had a habit of saying what was on his mind, which often got him in trouble and made him the butt of jokes. Lucky for him he had a strong, intelligent woman like Abigail for a partner. (Get a paperback copy of their letters. You will be amazed at the story that unfolds, and many of your ideas about what you think you know are likely to be shattered.)

Until I watched the HBO series, I hadn't realized (or else I had forgotten long ago) that John Adams defended the British soldiers accused of perpetrating the Boston Massacre. Now, whether the movie portrayal of this situation is exactly 100% accurate, I can't say, but I will say this: it is extremely thought-provoking when you stop to consider that taking this case could have cost John Adams his entire career. While other lawyers were understandably reluctant to take the job, Adams did, because he believed that everyone, including the unpopular, deserved justice under the law.

Adams took an unpopular case because he believed in justice. I have often asked myself, where are those people now, who will stand up for something when no one else will, simply because it's the right thing to do? Oh, I'm sure they're out there, but the news these days seems more concerned with who got kicked off American Idol or Dancing With the Stars, or who's been fooling around with his housekeeper behind his wife's back. Personally, I'm more interested in those people who are in the trenches doing the real work of bettering humanity by believing in something and acting on it.

This weekend, consider John Adams, and all the other men and women of history who took the risk of believing in something, even though they could have lost everything as a result. Independence is their eternal gift to us.

Till next time ---

1 comment:

  1. Adams was the quintessential voice of the new nation. His voice (and attitudes) resound in most of us today much more so than that of Washington or Jefferson. Thanks goodness he didn't "Sit down, John!" during the Continental Congress meetings.