In the first episode of the seven-part HBO series “John Adams,” the young attorney defends a group of British soldiers against murder charges following the shooting death of budding revolutionists. An unpopular position at the time, it began a rather unpopular, albeit landmark, career, which preceded a near-forgotten legacy. In fact, for the Founding Father, first vice-president of the United States and second president, Adams has enjoyed little love. Until recently.
A bill signed into law in 2001 introduced by former Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., set the wheels in motion for a monument to be built in Adams’ honor. Then Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough penned a book on Adams, which inspired the seven-part, $100-million HBO mini-series that wraps up this weekend.
Watching Academy Award-winner Paul Giamatti play Adams is nothing less than captivating. Not for his performance, which is stellar, but more because I knew so little about the man historians consider the driving force behind declaring independence from the British. After all, he’s not on our currency like his long-ago peers. He has no beer named after him, like his second cousin Samuel Adams. Moreover, I remember few history lessons focusing on John Adams – maybe I wasn’t listening.
So watching him portrayed on screen – a short, bald, fat man who lacked the strong profile of George Washington – is somewhat addicting. He had his share of downfalls, including the passage of the Alien Sedition Act used to silence his critics. He was irritable, often annoyed by Thomas Jefferson and even Washington, and self-righteous.
His attraction, as the Economists writes, was his “cussed authenticity.” And that – in the midst of our current presidential primaries where pandering is the norm – is a timely respite.
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