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  Sorry, HBO. John Adams Wasn't That Much of a Hero.
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Last EditedRP  Apr 22, 2008 12:32am
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MediaNewspaper - Washington Post
News DateSunday, April 20, 2008 06:00:00 AM UTC0:0
DescriptionSo even in HBO's basically appreciative portrait, viewers cannot be sure where their sympathies should lie. Of course, the series cannot possibly do justice to the complex history it spans; it often takes big leaps that leave even historians gasping, "Which year are we in now?" But beyond that, Adams remains an unlikely icon. Much as we come to admire his independence, patriotism and realism, his self-righteousness really did identify a critical failing in his judgment. All of his notable contemporaries cared deeply about reputation (or character, as they preferred to call it). But Adams was uniquely vain, and that vanity manifested itself in his inability to separate his positions from himself.

Return, then, to that revealing 1775 remark about the laurels that others would reap. Adams had been serving in the First and Second Continental Congresses, arguably his finest political moments. There he was the leading advocate for doing everything possible to prepare the colonies for the independence he believed was inevitable. Because he was so direct in arguing that the colonies must prepare for the worst, he earned the respect of most of his more cautious congressional colleagues.

But does this really justify the tag line on the HBO ads calling Adams the man who "united the states of America"? Congress did not declare independence because Adams debated his foes there into submission. The real uniters of the new states of 1776 were King George III and his anxious chief minister, Lord North, supported by a docile Parliament. By offering the colonists nothing more than pardons and proving that repression was the only policy Britain knew, they made independence a mere matter of timing.
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