The HBO Miniseries "John Adams" concluded this week and it was fantastic. Even someone who isn't all that interested in American history would enjoy it, because it's about the people. I heard HBO went over budget in order to make it as authentic as possible. There were a few deviations, like when John Adams said that he and Jefferson were the last living signers of the Declaration of Independence. Whether Adams was incorrect in thinking it back then, or HBO was incorrect in their story telling, I don't know, but the last signer of the Declaration to die was Charles Carroll of Maryland.
The seven part series takes you from the Boston Massacre and the signing of the Declaration through the life of John Adams, the first Vice President and second President of the United States. You are given the sense that Adams always felt like he was playing second fiddle. He was overshadowed by his cousin Sam Adams. He deferred to Thomas Jefferson in the writing of the Declaration. He couldn't hold a candle to Ben Franklin's diplomacy in France. He was vice president under George Washington, with very little in the way of responsibility or authority. After Adams was elected President he kept Washington's cabinet who did everything they could to undermine him. His old friend and Vice President, Thomas Jefferson worked against him. Even back then "bi-partisanship" was a pipe dream.
Throughout the series you're reminded that life was anything but easy in the early years of our nation, not even for presidents and their families. Nobody smiled because they all had rotten teeth. The practice of medicine was barbaric. The Adams' son Charles died at an early age, after struggling with alcoholism and being disowned by his father, the President. A few years later, their daughter, Nabby, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The film depicts just how brutal the practice of medicine was at the time when her breast was removed while she was awake. She later died when the cancer returned. Then we see that John's beloved wife Abigail died. It was very sad, he lost his wife, confidant and best friend.
John Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy Adams become the sixth President of the United States. John Quincy told his father he wanted to raise taxes to build roads and schools. The elder Adams warned him about the tactics of his political opponents. Do you think they had any idea what the Federal Government would become? National health care plans! Ha! They couldn't even get anesthesia for an operation.
I'm left fascinated with Thomas Jefferson. He was so eloquent in his writing of the Declaration and I believe that he truly believed slavery was wrong. Yet he was a slave owner. The hypocrisy is amazing. I guess it makes sense that the current Democratic party is often referred to as the "Party of Jefferson." I still think that even he would be appalled at the Democrats today. (I'll do some more research on President Jefferson and get back to you.)
At the end of their lives, Adams and Jefferson corresponded with each other and renewed their friendship. They understood that in a two party political system, friends can easily become enemies. They both died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the birth of our nation. Ironically, the last thing uttered by John Adams was "Thomas Jefferson survives".