Friday, March 28, 2008

John Adams Speech to Congress

In the HBO Films miniseries John Adams, the Massachusetts farmer-lawyer turned champion of independence gives an eloquent, heartfelt appeal for separation from Great Britain. It's a speech that some viewers of the HBO miniseries find hard to accept as coming from the 18th century statesman.

You can watch the scene in question here...

We know that John Adams was among the principal movers and shakers at the Second Continental Congress - that he was chief among those leading the charge for independence. And, according to biographer David McCullough, Adams gave "the speech of his life" on July 1, 1776 as Congress took up debate on Virginian Richard Henry Lee's pivotal motion for independence.

Sadly, we do not have an actual transcript of Adams' July 1 speech, so it fell to screenwriter Kirk Ellis and biographer David McCullough to recreate it. And therein lies the rub. To some, the recreated speech delivered by Paul Giamatti (the actor who brilliantly portrays Adams in the miniseries) was not John Adams.

This is perhaps one of those historical debates that has no resolution. For my own part, I'm inclined to give the powers-that-be over the HBO miniseries wide latitude. They did their best in recreating a dramatic moment for television, and it's highly unlikely that Adams would disapprove of the speech given by Giamatti.

In fact, it's quite likely the real John Adams would more than approve of this miniseries, for it places him back in the front rank of the Founders where he truly belongs.

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