By Sydney Stovall (VI) The last time I expected the name “John Adams” to pose any relevance to my life was at 3:00 PM on May 15th, 2020. As I submitted my AP U.S. History exam, a wave of relief flooded over me. For the time being, the 18th-century terms and events that I had previously drilled into my brain faded away; obsolete words became distant memories in an instant. Flash forward two months, my daily routine is now consumed with virtual conversations, some light reading, and, of course, a whole lot of binge-worthy TV. Unlike Avatar and the infamous Tiger King, my favorite quarantine obsession is not one that many would consider a trending topic. As my summer came to a close, I reverted back to my past self, accumulated the last embers of my burnt-out APUSH mind, and proceeded to watch the John Adams miniseries.
Although the show mainly served as a supplement to my class’s first unit on the American Revolution, it was drastically different from the more traditional history documentaries we often watched in class. Even from the perspective of an APUSH-student, I could tell that the John Adams miniseries had a lot to offer to both a history student and a person who appreciates good television. The acting, the set design, and the cinematography in the show really interested me both as an actress and a performer on stage. It represented history in a way that depicted characters as complex, relatable human beings, not just individuals defined by a textbook.
The show outlines the founding of America through John Adams’ perspective. Viewers observe the fiery nature of John coupled with the calming yet powerful demeanor of his wife, Abigail. Thomas Jefferson maintains his composed charm, while Alexander Hamilton commands the treasury with fierce confidence. The show begins with the Boston Massacre, an event that sparked a series of protests, conventions, and ultimately, a revolution. For many Americans, that night was the culmination of years of British suppression and unequal representation. People of all ages and occupations banded together to demand justice.
The events following the Boston Massacre show stark similarities to our nation’s response to the racial injustices that occurred this past summer. While Black Lives Matter is certainly not a new topic, our nation’s attention to anti-Black sentiments erupted like never before, and much of this surge in social consciousness is attributed to protests. Much like the Boston Massacre, for many Americans, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery were breaking points after years of injustice.
Perhaps one of the most jarring scenes in the first episode depicts the brutal tar and feathering of tax collector John Malcolm. While there is clearly no justification for the terrorization of an individual, these moments of heightened energy accurately reflect the anger many Americans felt. To be compelled to inflict brutality on an individual clearly conveys one’s urgency and determination to demand justice. We as Americans idolize these figures as true patriots who place freedom and justice over all else, engaging in potentially dangerous actions as a means to implement change. However, changes and often contradicts itself depending on the underlying circumstances. Although the Black Lives Matter protests and the Revolutionary war-era protests are both rooted in the fight for equality, the former is deemed as controversial to many Americans. The rioting and looting exhibited during the BLM protests is deemed unpatriotic, yet the violence committed by the angry civilians of the 18th century is acknowledged as the pinnacle of American’s fight for freedom.
The right to protest is ingrained within our country’s DNA. By giving us the agency to improve our nation, protests allow us to form a more intimate relationship with our surrounding environment. The strength to demand change and place oneself into a cause greater than their own existence gives America its power. Shouldn’t we uphold these same ideals to all individuals? Or will America’s cherished values remain applicable to a select few?