I’ve watched the HBO mini-series about John and Abigail Adams because I’ve wanted a better grasp of history. The series was based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling biography John Adams, written by acclaimed historian David McCollough.
There was, however, apparently an important dimension of the Adams’ life that was largely ignored by the film. For example, I don’t remember Abigail portrayed as talking with or writing to John after the Battle of Lexington and Concord in terms like these (chapter and verse references added):
“Nor doth the eye say unto the hand, “I have no need of thee” [1 Corinthians 12:21]. The Lord will not cast off His people, neither will He forsake his inheritance [Psalm 94:14]. Great events are most certainly in the womb of futurity, and if the present chastisements which we experience have a proper influence upon our conduct, the event will certainly be in our favor. . . . Pharaoh’s [i.e., King George III’s] heart is hardened, and he refuseth (sic) to hearken to them and will not let the people go [Exodus 8:32]. May their deliverance be wrought out for them, as it was for the children of Israel [Exodus 12].”
The fact that she’s not giving John the chapter and verse references indicates that he’s as familiar with the passages as she is…and that the couple sees the American struggle in biblical terms.
Abigail also wrote:
“He who neglects his duty to his Maker may well be expected to be deficient and insincere in his duty towards the public.”
I’m not saying there were no references to God in the script whatsoever; I’m saying that His importance to John and Abigail was not as central a theme in the mini-series as it apparently was in their lives
As for John, here are some quotes from the man himself:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
“The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this Earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost. . . . There is no authority, civil or religious – there can be no legitimate government – but that which is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words, damnation.”
“The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity.”
I get the idea from these quotes that John and Abigail took the Bible seriously, and that they looked to God for direction and approval in life. I did not get that idea from HBO. On the contrary, I got the idea that John and Abigail were as secular as HBO.
I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if omissions like this should be attributed to HBO or McCollough. What I do know is that all that is called history is not accurate history. To diminish or discard John’s and Abigail’s religious worldview is to present something less than history.
The post linked below is my source for the quotes above. However, I should add that I have read elsewhere of the Adams’ spiritual motivations.
(5 min read; 1,313 words)