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Posted on Mar 14, 2008 in Books and Movies

Kirk Ellis Interview on HBO’s John Adams

Gerald D. Swick

ACG/HN: Both John and Abigail are very strict in dealing with their children. Do you think audiences will find that somewhat shocking?

KE: I think so. Eighteenth-century childraising was not the touchy-feely system imposed on this country today. The Adamses were constantly reminding the children that they were born with every opportunity, and it was up to them to make something of themselves. That is not out of keeping with the tenor of the times, especially how they raised children on a farm in Massachusetts.

I think John and Abigail paid some price with their children for having John as an absentee father. My research shows this passes down the line for several generations.


ACG/HN: This miniseries is a remarkable presentation of life during the early years of our country. It is not the sanitized, iconic version most of us learned in school, but neither does it pander to modern demythifiers who tend to dismiss the Founding Fathers as hypocrites for not holding twenty-first century views on subjects like race and gender. What do you think it has to teach us about America today?


KE: The eighteenth century in America was a time in which people believed, actually believed in concepts of duty and responsibility. They were able to subsume personal desires into public duty. They thought in the long term, not the short term as we do today. They thought about their posterity all the time. Views changed as they got older. Adams became more optimistic about America, Jeff more pessimistic.

Adams comes to peace with himself in his later years. He wrote to Jefferson, "You and I were laborers in a cause that will be forgotten by the next generation."

Little did we know when we started this miniseries that we’d see Americans get so involved in an election cycle. Maybe they’ll become more involved in their government.

Sacrifice isn’t not driving your car two days a week. Sacrifice is leaving your home in the middle of winter, taking your son to Europe and disappearing from your family for 10 years so your children and their children would have better life.

When Abigail was asked if she resented all the time her husband had spent away from her, Abigail wrote, "If I had known what Mr. Adams had achieved, I’d gladly have consented to another three years."

We don’t have that sort of dedication to civic responsibility in this country anymore, and we need to get it back.


ACG/HN: Thanks for talking with us. Is there anything you’d like to add?

KE: David (McCullogh) has said his favorite quote from the Adams’ letters is one from Abigail to John in Congress: "Posterity who are to reap the blessings will never know the sacrifice made by their ancestors."

That’s the reason we made the show.

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