Several years ago Gary and I bought a copy of the HBO mini-series, John Adams. Since 2008 I think we have watched it twice. This week we decided to give it another viewing. It’s interesting to note how one’s understanding and appreciation of a film or book, or even an event, changes over time. The first time I watched this film I was impressed by the acting and moved by the turmoil of the times. The second time I was intrigued by the politics and the back room bargains made to get our country started on its path. This time I was impressed by the sacrifices of the women and children left at home while their men went off to defend their rights and decide their futures.
While it sounds quite noble to talk of men meeting in secret to determine the destiny of their country, it must also be noted that women were not there because they were not allowed to be there. In fact, many of the inalienable rights so treasured by our founding fathers were denied to women and slaves for many generations after that famous piece of paper was signed.
Another fact that occurred to me during last night’s episode was that the men meeting in Philadelphia did so with the full confidence that their women, children, and in some cases, slaves, would care for the home front while they were away. Businesses, farms, and schools would most likely be there when they returned, if they had not been victims of the war.
Many of our founding fathers were also just that- fathers. They had children who loved them, missed them, and perhaps also resented them for being gone at such a critical and frightening time. Younger children were often a burden to the women who suddenly had to take on the jobs of their absent husbands. Older children were pressed into service and had to give up play and sometimes school. It could not have been easy to be “home alone” no matter how splendid and righteous the cause your husband or father was defending.
The problem with the way we traditionally teach history is that it is often too sterile, dealing only in facts and dates and how they align with other facts and dates. We seldom bother to learn much about the men behind the treaties and declarations and constitutions we revere. We know even less about their wives and children. We seem content with the Reader’s Digest version of events. Unfortunately history is much messier and far more complicated. Yes, our country was created by men with grand ideas and lofty goals and inspiring determination. However, they were also men with flaws and problems, with agendas and ambitions, with friends and families just like ours. Founding fathers indeed…
Note: Like any other work of fiction, especially those based on events long past, there are mistakes in John Adams. They can be defended or condemned or ignored. Your choice.