I’ve been watching a group of state representatives discuss the possibility of seceding from their country.

Weary of oppression, tired of being treated like second-class citizens, they argue that it’s time to stop the madness. They’re fed up. They’re angry. Some are ready to take up arms if necessary. Others fear retribution from their government.

Emotions are raw. They argue, their words often rife with bitter insults. Their faces damp with sweat, they appeal to reason with an eloquence that impresses even their opponents.

Finally, the discussion is over. They cast votes. The tension in the room is as thick as dried mud. Every man in this room knows his fate rests on the edge of a knife. They listen, mouths dry, breaths frozen in their chests, as each vote is read aloud. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes.

Votes are tallied. The majority rules in favor of secession. A fait accompli. A letter is drafted to notify their government of their decision. They desire peace, but should all peaceful efforts become exhausted, they will defend themselves and their families to the death.

Within a few days, an official document is drafted. One by one, the representatives read over it carefully, weighing every word before signing their names at the bottom: John Adams. Josiah Bartlett. Benjamin Harrison. Edward Rutledge. Samuel Adams.

Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson. John Hancock.

I recently watched HBO’s mini-series, John Adams. I’d already seen it several times, and each time I find something I missed before. Based on the book by David McCullough and produced by actor Tom Hanks’ s company, Playtone Pictures, it begins in 1770 when Adams is asked to defend the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.

The writing, directing, and acting are all top notch. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linley turn in great performances as John and Abigail Adams. Stephen Dillane (Thomas Jefferson) and Tom Wilkinson (Benjamin Franklin) are simply excellent, as is Zeljko Ivanek, who plays John Dickinson. When Dickinson, a Quaker who opposed separation from England, pleads his case before the other representatives, his voice breaking with emotion, you actually feel for the man.

The cinematography is also good. Director Tom Hooper’s use of handheld cameras gives one a voyeuristic sensation of actually being there and witnessing events as they transpire. My only criticism is his too-frequent use of Dutch angles, a Hollywood term that refers to tilting the camera sideways for dramatic effect. While I am a big fan of this cinematic device, it can become tiresome and even annoying if overused.

When you’re studying American history in school, you tend to skim over the finer details, so your impression of what actually happened is somewhat vague. A bunch of English guys wanted to start a new country, so they all came up with a document, signed it, and voila! Freedom!

Watching this series gives you a deeper understanding of the turmoil, the politics, the bloodshed, the sleepless nights, and the disease that they endured to break away from a monarchy they considered less than benevolent. I remember the first time I saw John Adamsin 2010. I’ve heard the term “tarred and feathered” for many years, but when I saw how cruel, humiliating, and painful this torture actually was, I was horrified. There is absolutely nothing humorous about it.

Americans love our freedom. Elton John sang, “I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom.” But freedom is never free. Freedom isn’t always “just another word for nothing left to lose.” The men who signed that document had plenty to lose but to them, freedom was worth the risk.

Benjamin Franklin was once asked if we had a republic or a monarchy.  His reply was, “A republic…if you can keep it.”

I vote we keep it.

 

 

 

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