In this week’s installment of David McCullough’s historical epic, John Adams, we go behind the scenes at the Continental Congress to witness the overworked, totally stressed out delegates as they continue to pound out the legislation that will form the backbone of our country. What was so interesting to me is how McCullough really takes you into the hearts and minds of the congressmen. I had labored all of these years under the impression that the Founding Fathers must have had a blast, being able to work with the blank canvas that was our country and make all the decisions that would affect their countrymen for centuries to come. McCullough shows us how the work was really anything BUT a blast. Not only did our new country have no money, no international recognition, and a ragtag army, but all of the brave men working so hard at ensuring our independence had everything to lose if things didn’t work out. Signing such a traitorous document as the Declaration of Independence was basically signing a death warrant for all of the congressmen. As McCullough points out, John Adams himself was on George III’s list of rebels to hang. The exhaustion that many delegates such as Adams, Jefferson and Dickinson suffered is completely understandable, since they worked long hours without a break away from their families.
My daughter watched a bit of the HBO series John Adams with me a couple of weeks ago. What was most enlightening (and gross) for her was seeing how people in the eighteenth century were inoculated for infectious disease. Avery has never been a big fan of needles, but after watching the doctors of that era scrape some pus out of open smallpox sores and then cut open the arm of the person to be inoculated and put some of the pus into the arm, she informed me she’d take the needle over that anytime. This procedure was actually revolutionary at the time, and sometimes resulted in severe illness or death, but after reading about smallpox itself, seems like a much better option (and usually a milder form of the disease) than contracting the disease in the ordinary way. I could understand Adams’ concern for his family, as he was so far away from them during that worrisome time where anything could have happened.
I was most struck by Adams’ (and Benjamin Franklin’s) bravery and integrity when they met with Lord Howe, reminding me of David meeting Goliath. It must have taken some serious cajones to sit face to face with one of the most powerful British officers and basically tell him “thanks, but no thanks” to his pleas to reverse the step towards independence. I love how Adams told Howe he’d rather be considered anything but a British subject. WOW. From that point, there was really no turning back.
Was anyone else glad that Adams finally broke down and headed home to Abigail?
Looking forward to see what happens next, now that the irreversible leap to independence has been taken.