Make a Good Use of It

 

“No, 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.”

“You could not be, nor did I wish to see you, an inactive spectator.”

Those are just two moments of concluding dialogue from HBO’s “John Adams,” a seven-part series, currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

The first quote is John Adams, speaking to the posterity of Americans, who are the beneficiaries of his life’s work, and the work of all the founding fathers. Is he repenting in heaven, all these centuries later, for the sacrifices made on our behalf?

The second quote is from Abigail Adams. She is reflecting on her life with John, especially his many and lengthy absences from their family. Throughout the series, Abigail is a key figure, presented as a trusted advisor, if not an equal, to John.

Has this notion of America proved worthy of their sacrifice made during the founding? Or is she repenting in heaven?

Another moment I clearly remember is President George Washington, standing at a window, looking out on a mob, raging with shouts and fire, about a treaty with France.

Washington reflected, “I’m weary of being unpopular.” The next scene he was stepping down, and mention was made of how his character shone in his willingness to give up power. Power he could easily have kept or expanded.

I found myself wondering if Washington stepped down, to check his own fears of abusing power? Was he afraid of acquiescing to popularity, rather than sound judgment?

The final quote I’ll share is Adams saying, “A mob is still a mob, even when they agree with you.” That speaks for itself, and even if he didn’t say that, the idea is as relevant today, as it was in the 1790s.

I really enjoyed this series. I’m not sure if the dialogue is from quotes or letters, or other written history. At the very least dialogue was crafted to seamlessly meld history and artistic license.

I rejoiced Abigail and John’s triumphs. I wept in their sorrows, many of which were rooted in Adam’s commitment to duty and country. I found myself in awe of what our founding fathers, their families, and the citizenry, overcame, during the birth of our nation.

Has anyone else watched this series? What is your takeaway?

There are 36 comments.

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  1. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    I hope the Founding Fathers are not repenting in heaven; I have great hope for America, because as bad as we are, America is still the greatest country on earth-if you don’t believe that, spend some time in other countries. And we are the greatest country because and only because of the Founding Fathers.

    Even with all of our problems, America is still the greatest, last hope of mankind. Failure is not an option.

    • #1
  2. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    Even with all of our problems, America is still the greatest, last hope of mankind.

    I agree Judith.

    • #2
  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Jules PA: I really enjoyed this series. I’m not sure if the dialogue is from quotes or letters, or other written history. At the very least dialogue was crafted to seamlessly meld history and artistic license.

    The reason I don’t watch things like this, or read historical fiction, is that it’s so hard to get made-up events and quotations out of my mind. I confuse them with the real thing.

    Many years ago I read Alan Eckert’s Twilight of Empire. I have to credit him with getting me started on the roadside history I’ve been doing for the past 21 years, but later when I started reading actual source documents on, e.g. the fight at Stillman’s Run, or visiting the site (as I did again on a bike tour last fall) I kept trying to fit them into the framework of Eckert’s account. But his is just a made-up interpretation. But because it is so vivid and well done, it hinders my ability to learn what happened even when I know better. Maybe people with better minds don’t have this problem, but I do.

     

    • #3
  4. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    In 2 hours those quotes I post will be mush in my head, my memory will force me to say, “something like…”

    I must be getting older, but I just can’t remember things exactly.

    I’m going to check on these “quotes” to see if they are authentic.

    Thanks for the comment.

    • #4
  5. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    The John Adams posterity quote: authentic from his letter to Abigail, 1777

    Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 26 April 1777 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/

    • #5
  6. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    The Abigail quote, also authentic, 1774 to John.

    Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 16 October 1774 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    The John Adams posterity quote: authentic from his letter to Abigail, 1777

    Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 26 April 1777 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/

    Glad to hear it! Thanks for checking.

    • #7
  8. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Well, I can’t find the George Washington quote, but I might have misremembered it from the video. I did find a Mount Vernon link to a list of quotes MISATTRIBUTED to Geore Washington.

    http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/spurious-quotations/

    • #8
  9. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I loved this series. I’ve seen it three times now. (We gave it to my husband one Christmas when he was on deck to make us his usual Christmas morning eggs Benedict, and we waited all day and breakfast never came–he couldn’t break from it. He really loved it. But we’re not giving him any more videos for Christmas. :)  )

    It’s been too long since I’ve seen it to remember much but a feeling of the sacrifice he made to see this country get a good start. But we have really enjoyed it. We always follow it up with the musical 1776, which is light except for the scene where South Carolina threatens to leave the convention if Jefferson’s paragraph about slavery is not deleted.

    I should go up to the Adams estate in Quincy and take some pictures for Ricochet. :)

    • #9
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    I found myself wondering if Washington stepped down, to check his own fears of abusing power? Was he afraid of acquiescing to popularity, rather than sound judgement?

    That Washington quote was the one that I thought sounded true to his personality, if not true to life. I don’t recall that quote appearing in any of the biographies of Washington that I have read, but he was constantly obsessing over his reputation.

    • #10
  11. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Couldn’t attribute the mob quote, but I might have misremembered it. I did discover a wiki on the series. Thus is me in my cave:

    Series 10 years old, from 2008

    Series won lots of awards

    Produced by Tom Hanks

    Based on a book

    Here is wiki link, including a section on inaccuracies.

     

    en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Adams_(miniseries)

     

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I should go up to the Adams estate in Quincy and take some pictures for Ricochet. :)

    That would be great! It may be difficult for you to do in winter, but maybe you could also check on whether it is approachable by bicycle.

    • #12
  13. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Ok, so, reading the wiki on the fictions in the series, and this made me happy, because I found the tar/feather scene deeply disturbing. So much so I gasped out loud, in horror of the torture, and run by a public mob. The bold italics mine.

    In the series

    • John Hancock is confronted by a British customs official, and he orders the crowd to “teach him a lesson, tar the bastard”. Hancock and Samuel Adams then look on while the official is tarred and feathered, to the disapproval of John Adams. The scene is fictional and does not appear in McCullough’s book. According to Samuel Adams biographer Ira Stoll, there’s no evidence that Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were opposed to mob violence, were ever present at a tarring and feathering, and so the scene succeeds in “tarring the reputations of Hancock and Samuel Adams”.[21] Jeremy Stern writes, “Despite popular mythology, tarrings were never common in Revolutionary Boston, and were not promoted by the opposition leadership. The entire sequence is pure and pernicious fiction.”[16]According to Stern, the scene is used to highlight a schism between Samuel and John Adams, which is entirely fictional.[16]
    • #13
  14. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Additional fiction and redirection, in the tar/feather. The series showed black and boiling tar, and made me think of road and roofing tar. Again, I’m happy to find that 1700’s tar was pine tar.

    Pine tar also has a low melting point, and would not burn the skin the way that hot petroleum tar would.

    • #14
  15. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    I found myself wondering if Washington stepped down, to check his own fears of abusing power? Was he afraid of acquiescing to popularity, rather than sound judgement?

    That Washington quote was the one that I thought sounded true to his personality, if not true to life. I don’t recall that quote appearing in any of the biographies of Washington that I have read, but he was constantly obsessing over his reputation.

    Yes, in the series, and from my memory, he is lauded as a man of character. Providential for the United States, as an infant nation, to have him, and the rest on for the beginning.

    • #15
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    I found myself wondering if Washington stepped down, to check his own fears of abusing power? Was he afraid of acquiescing to popularity, rather than sound judgement?

    That Washington quote was the one that I thought sounded true to his personality, if not true to life. I don’t recall that quote appearing in any of the biographies of Washington that I have read, but he was constantly obsessing over his reputation.

    Yes, in the series, and from my memory, he is lauded as a man of character. Providential for the United States, as an infant nation, to have him, and the rest on for the beginning.

    An imperfect person, but in many ways the greatest President.  (J.S. Bach was cranky and obsessive about personal slights, but wrote the greatest music.)

    • #16
  17. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    MarciN (View Comment):
    he couldn’t break from it.

    Neither could I. It was compelling.

    • #17
  18. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    I hope the Founding Fathers are not repenting in heaven…

    Just a thought : Maybe instead of repenting, the Founders have been advocating on our behalf, which is why we’ve made it this far. ?

    • #18
  19. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    The nature of films to take license brings skepticism, that can lead to learning facts.

    [Abigail] was not with [John, in the White House] as depicted in the series. This is especially important to note because due to her not being with him, President Adams wrote a letter to Abigail on his second night in the mansion that included a very famous quote which President Franklin Roosevelt had inscribed in the fireplace mantle in the State Dining Room–“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.”

    This quote was in the series.

    • #19
  20. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    I don’t always understand the dramatic license in film making, and find it especially irksome when true history is equal or better to what ends up in the film.

    Adams examines Trumball’s painting of the signing of the declaration. The history is this:

    when he inspected Trumbull’s painting, Adams’ only comment was to point to a door in the background of the painting and state, “When I nominated George Washington of Virginia for Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, he took his hat and rushed out that door.”[34]

    In the film, was a laborious exchange nothing like that.

    • #20
  21. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    What would endear John Adams to you, Jules, more than anything else he did was that he included a clause in his original draft of the Massachusetts Constitution guaranteeing children the right to a liberal arts education that included classical music.

    I’ve been trying to find it ever since I joined Ricochet to show it to you.

    One of these days I’ll unearth it.

    It’s one of the reasons that public school music programs thrived here for so long.

    • #21
  22. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Suffice it to say, there was a fair amount of license taken, but, that does not dissuade me from recommending this series.

    • #22
  23. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    aardo vozz (View Comment):

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    I hope the Founding Fathers are not repenting in heaven…

    Just a thought : Maybe instead of repenting, the Founders have been advocating on our behalf, which is why we’ve made it this far. ?

    I like that thought, and finding it somewhat comforting.

     

    • #23
  24. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    MarciN (View Comment):
    What would endear John Adams to you, Jules, more than anything else he did was that he included a clause in his original draft of the Massachusetts Constitution guaranteeing children the right to a liberal arts education that included classical music.

    I’ve been trying to find it ever since I joined Ricochet to show it to you.

    One of these days I’ll unearth it.

    It’s one of the reasons that public school music programs thrived here for so long.

    Warms my heart MarciN. More than you know.

    I don’t know if he said it, but in the series, early in a trip to France, he made the I study x so my children can study Y…

    You know the one I mean!

    • #24
  25. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and Poetry Mathematicksand Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

    Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, post 12 May 1780 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/

    • #25
  26. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    wikipedia

    If this series did nothing else, it proved the founding fathers were all imperfect, but still capable of good.

    Amazing, world-changing good.

    • #26
  27. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    They were, IMO, the most remarkable men in the history of the world.

    • #27
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I’ve read biographies on both of them. Abigail certainly was ahead of her times in many respects, and even fought for women to own property. She was quite the investor, too.

    I was motivated to read about them after the series; I must have seen it back when on PBS, since I don’t have HBO. They both sacrificed so much for this country. Good post, Jules!

    • #28
  29. Podkayne of Israel Member
    Podkayne of Israel
    @PodkayneofIsrael

    I very much enjoyed the series and watched it over again several times before I was able to get hold of the McCullough biography. The Adamses seem to me to encapsulate the best of the hard-working, conscience-driven ethics upon which I myself was raised.

    I don’t live up to it much of the time, but that will always  be the standard.

    • #29
  30. Ralphie Inactive
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    Additional fiction and redirection, in the tar/feather. The series showed black and boiling tar, and made me think of road and roofing tar. Again, I’m happy to find that 1700’s tar was pine tar.

    Pine tar also has a low melting point, and would not burn the skin the way that hot petroleum tar would.

    I watched the series a few years back, and that scene was kind of terrifying to think about someone going through that.  As a part time artists, I liked the end where he complained about the famous picture of the founders not being true to life.

    • #30

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