Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Like many others, I have been watching the John Adams miniseries on HBO. From my perspective, the miniseries has just been great. It not only focuses on the important events in an entertaining and intelligent way, it also can dramatically remind you of many things that are easily overlooked when simplying reviewing events -- things like what it would have been like to be in France during the Revolutionary War and to have been the first occupant of the White House when Washington, DC was an undeveloped swamp.
The really great thing about the miniseries for me is that I can generally trust the story it is telling. I don't have to worry -- too much at least -- that it is changing the story for artistic reasons. The only real error I have found so far involved the ratification of the Jay Treaty, which the miniseries treats as involving a tie that was resolved by Adams as Vice President. Instead, as we all know, a treaty is ratified by a two thirds vote, and the Jay Treaty was ratified by the bare minimum of 20 to 10. And of course David McCullouch's book on Adams, on which the series is based, is known as being partial to Adams, so it is not surprising that little is said of Adams's view, asserted during the early years of the Republic, that an hereditary presidency would have been better than an elected one!
Still, my sense is that historical innacuracy is quite minor. I really feel like I am getting a real sense of the man, and it will be hard to think of him without imagining Giamatti's face. As well, the portrayels of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Marshall seem quite good.