The Data Dude – Wednesday Watch: John Adams

john_adamsOn July 4 in the Dude’s neighborhood, stepping onto the back deck after dark is like stepping onto the set of Apocalypse Now. Every year the Dude goes through this and also uses the time as a friendly reminder to rethink American history. This includes (but is not limited to) such things as the revolutionary war, current events, U.S. Presidents, and of course Native Americans. The Native American part is timely, as the Dude travelled to South Dakota this summer with his two kids for a week long excursion into the hills. It is an oversimplification, but perhaps the notion of early patriotism and American history should always be viewed under the shroud of Native American history. The Dude is in the process of re-watching the excellent PBS series We Shall Remain, a highly recommended tool to help understand early American history from the Native perspective. One word about Mount Rushmore: Its original condition, well known to the Lakota Sioux as Six Grandfathers (yes, the white Dudes renamed it) is spectacular. Unfortunately, there are few photos before it was taken from the Lakota Sioux and carved up, but here is one.

Speaking of July 4 (the Dude will return to the Native tangent later), what about July 2? On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail, about the historical significance of July 2:

“But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Many of you may know about the July 2/July 4 confusion, mostly created as a result of John Trumbull’s infamous painting in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda (and also on the back of the $2 bill), Declaration of Independence. The problem with the well-known painting is that it seems to suggest that the Continental Congress event took place on July 4 instead of July 2, and that there was a meeting of the minds and grand signing ceremony on that day. it didn’t happen like that. While the meeting of the minds part (and the vote for independence) took place on July 2, the document itself was revised a bit and finished with a July 4 date, and then sent to the printer. Most of the Independence Dudes skedaddled back home and actually signed the finished Declaration on August 2.

Out of the first 12 Presidents, Adams and Quincy Adams were the only 2 Dudes that not only did not own slaves, but were outspoken against slavery. Washington, for the record, spoke out against slavery, but that apparently didn’t keep him from owning them. But we need to not lose touch with the fact that both Adams and Qunicy Adams were politicians, and should judge accordingly. Also, we need to understand the dynamic between the Colonists and Native Americans. There is little that has been written about the views of Adams when it comes to Native Americans, and little written by Adams himself on the subject. While the Dude would like to speculate that the likes of Adams, Washington et. al. would be appalled at the trail of genocide, broken treaties, and overall lousy treatment of the Native Peoples, the reality is that there is a deep history and support of Native American discrimination, dispossession, and stereotypes (the Declaration of Independence, authored mostly by Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, includes the phrase “merciless Indian Savages”) that still continues today. Suffice it to say that a balanced view of history is a cogent prescription when it comes to Native Americans. An example of balance might include the Native American art of David Behrens. One of his paintings, an antithesis to Mount Rushmore, is entitled Founding Fathers, a depiction of Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Red Cloud. Alas, this is a tangent that the Dude often goes down, but in this case worth mentioning for the big picture.

Given the Dude’s penchant for often preferring the film or miniseries over the book (although my most recent example of the opposite is evidenced by the lackluster film version of (yawn) Unbroken), most of you know (in case you missed it in the title) that the Dude is through the detours and headed toward the HBO miniseries John Adams for today’s Wednesday Watch.

John Adams is a 7 part series roughly covering 1770-1826, or the time period from the Boston massacre to the death of Adams (ironically on July 4, 1826, the same day that his rival turned pen pal Thomas Jefferson died). According to WorldCat, there are 18 public libraries in Nebraska that have John Adams. The look and feel of the series seems historically accurate. This includes the colonial clothing, characters (Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Hamilton, et. al.), buildings, speech, and the like. The Dude was at first skeptical of actor Paul Giamatti’s depiction of Adams, but by the end of the first episode concluded that Giamatti (the pinot noir wine snob from Sideways) was a good choice. You need to keep in mind that there may be some editorial license taken with the series (it is TV), but there are many historical accuracies and many things to like about it. An example is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the family struggles and dynamic of the Adams family, including John’s absences and Abigail’s difficulties at home. This includes the alcoholism, financial struggles, and premature death of their second son Charles Adams.

Now, if you are looking for a more in depth analysis of the politics or something that has 100% accuracy (if there is such a thing), then you probably want to delve deeper somewhere else. But for understanding the basics (in an easy to digest format) of not only Adams but also many things about the American revolution that you might not have already known, this is a very good start. Some things the Dude wasn’t aware of include the fact that attorney John Adams not only represented the British soldiers charged with murder in the Boston massacre, but got them acquitted. While the portrayal of Samuel Adams (no relation to the beer) as Sonny Corleone-ish seems a bit off (although it adds to the drama), there is much to like with this series. Finally, the Dude would like to thank HBO, who not only responded (the same day no less) to e-mail requests to use the cover art in this and other Wednesday Watch posts, but granted permission. Shaka, HBO.

 

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