I’ve spent nearly every evening this week watching the HBO series on John Adams. It has all been very fascinating. I have the impression that overall, it is extremely accurate. Their John Adams actor (Paul Giamatti) even looks like the pictures we have of John Adams. By the end of the movie his teeth are black and rotting. I don’t know if John Adams really had this dental problem, but I assume that if he hadn’t, they would not have made their actor look unattractive. He and most of the main players look very realistic.
HBO probably didn’t intend this, but the most interesting part of the movie for me is the relationship (or lack of one) between Jefferson and Hamilton. I think they were portrayed very well. And George Washington. Adams and Jefferson complain that Washington is a good man and all, but he always defers to Hamilton and lets Hamilton run the show. Adams allows Hamilton and his cronies to form a national army to defeat the French (who haven’t yet attacked…they were just being cautious….yeah right) and Hamilton comes to Adams with detailed descriptions of the new army uniforms and even some of the technical details like, “When their commander says ______ [I forgot the exact word] the men will turn their head to the right, with their left eye in line with the left row of buttons on their coat and their right eye looking down the row of men beside them.” This borders on being extreme and comical, but it is clear that Hamilton glories in the pomp and show of his new army. And on the other hand you have Jefferson who is accused of promoting anarchy and who sits silently with a secret smile, who never says, “oh, no, we couldn’t have anarchy! Where’s the big central government to save us from chaos!” but who is probably thinking, “little do they know I am an anarchist, and little do they know where this whole Constitution business and central government is going to lead us.”
After my studies of the American Revolution and following years, Jefferson is the only one I can still admire. I’m afraid to read Albert Jay Nock, I suspect he’s going to blast away that one last hero of the Revolution too. And if he doesn’t, Rothbard probably will. But I would like to think, just for a little while, that Jefferson really was a true patriot and one who didn’t compromise.
That’s what I think Adams had difficulty with. He was torn between Hamilton and Jefferson. Sometimes he agreed with Jefferson, sometimes with Hamilton. He didn’t keep Hamilton in his cabinet, but he did sign the horrendous Alien and Sedition Acts. I think Adams had much potential, but somehow failed along the way because he didn’t know quite what he believed. I did respect him very much at the beginning when he argued for the accused British soldiers. He believed that even the British had the right to a fair trial. That is a lesson we would do well to remember.