One of the best things about the new HBO mini-series “John Adams” is the humanity the actors bring to their parts. While I was watching I kept thinking,“I’ll bet that’s the way it was.”The second is how the filmmakers allow us to witness the turmoil, much of it gritty, and triumph that ultimately gave birth to the United States.
If ever we needed to reconnect with that time, it is now.
Faced with the sixth year of a contentious war, a troubled economy, a host of domestic issues and ethical lapses involving the very leadership that promised a different future, we are, in many ways, facing a similar turmoil that roiled the thirteen colonies. The difference is that the Washington of today seems more absorbed in the business of politics than the business of the people. In 1775, the delegates to the Continental Congress were vitally aware of the real issue at hand: liberty for the people.
This was a time before Democrats and Republicans, liberal and conservative. They referred to themselves as Sons and Daughters of Liberty, and the only “special interests” were the rights of the people. That’s not to say that they didn’t argue. They did, bitterly. But the arguments, though impassioned, remained well-mannered. They referred to each other as “Gentlemen,” and would end angry statements with “Sir.”
John Adams is one of these gentlemen and he’s introduced to us in an interesting and unexpected way. He’s defending the British soldiers who took part in the so-called Boston Massacre. In explaining his summation speech to his wife and partner Abigail he says, “My purpose is to show that certain principles are eternal.” In fact, we quickly realize that Adams life is centered on “certain basic principles,” and it is these principles that ring true in most every scene that features him.
His speech to a gathering in a local church: “It stands on this principle that the meanest and lowest of the people are, by the unalterable, indefeasible laws of God and nature as well entitled to the benefit of the air to breathe, light to see, food to eat and clothes to wear… that is Liberty…”
His speech at the Continental Congress: “I see a new nation ready to take its place in the world. Not an Empire, but a Republic, but a Republic of laws, not men… I believe sirs that the hour has come. My judgment approves this measure and my whole heart is in it.”
John Adams and the rest of the revolutionaries show us thebest that we can be in difficult times. They were engaged, involved in a process to bring about a new nation through their integrity of purpose, and they ably proved themselves with determination, passion and dedication to a republic hungry for“certain unalienable rights.”
When Adams asks a British captain why the officer requested him to defend the soldiers accused in the Boston shooting, the captain replies, “I’ve heard you are a man of integrity.”
In these uncertain times, we need to return to that kind of integrity. Now more than ever, we need the kind of integrity in leadership that will stand up and stand for the same principles that were evident at the spring of this country — principles for the people not some “party base” or political agenda. And all of us need to become engaged and involved in determining that leadership, now more than ever.