Monday, April 7, 2008

History Lessons

Is anyone else watching John Adams on HBO? Did anyone read the book? I'm wondering because, although I'm enjoying the miniseries, Paul Giamatti is playing Adams as if he is constantly constipated. He looks absolutely clenched-up and tortured. I know Adams spent the last 30 years of his life writing letter after tortured letter complaining that he didn't get enough credit for all that he did, but was this a lifelong thing, or just a product of the fact that Adams really didn't get much recognition during his lifetime?

Maybe he wasn't all that likable. Plus, he did sign into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, some of the most unpopular and controversial legislation ever passed (and, the 18th century version of the Patriot Act). I don't know. Hamilton wasn't very well-liked either, yet he managed to get his face on the ten dollar bill. Of course, he also boated over to Weehawken and dueled to his death with Aaron Burr, so he does get the "died before his time" sympathy. And Burr shortly proved himself to be a tad crazy and treacherous, but that's another story.

Adams' son, John Quincy Adams, also got the short end of history's stick. Until 2000, this pair was our only father-son presidential tag team. In an interesting parallel with the Bush saga, John Q was given the presidency by House of Representatives, despite losing the popular and electoral votes, which Andrew Jackson had won. Henry Clay dropped out of the running, gave his support to John Q, John Q was elected on the first ballot, and Clay was appointed Secretary of State. Jackson cried foul, quit the Senate and immediately began his campaign to take the Presidency away from Adams. By all accounts John Q was the best diplomat every elected President (he was the author of the Monroe Doctrine, after all), but Jackson's supporters undermined his domestic policies, and Jackson won the election of 1828 overwhelmingly.

So neither Adams gets talked about much, except as part of someone else's story. Which makes the book and miniseries nicely corrective. The cliche is that history is written by the winners, but really the point is that history tends to be written about the winners. I'm enjoying John Adams because it feels like a peek into the life of one of history's losers, and that's refreshing.

Plus, Thomas Jefferson is hot.


Anonymous said...

I am also glued in front of HBO Sun. night, I feel that Adams was egotistical and and only Abigail keep him from floating away with a big head. I haven't read the book yet, but plan on it this summer.

J. Spike said...

I can't see this until it is on netflix. I lack HBO. I'm a fan of Curb your Enthusiasm but have only viewed the first three seasons.

But when I think of the actor playing Adams the first thing that comes to mind is the first movie I saw him in. As "Pig Vomit" in Howard Stern's Private Parts.

I hope HBO dosn't cast Beetlejuice or Crack Head Bob to play FDR.

Also please tell me Eric Alterman is not a "consultant" to the series, like he was Rome. Which just like his history view of the 2000 election had some details that lack facts.