By Irene F. Starkehaus -
The History Channel presented a three night miniseries from January 25 to January 27, 2015 on the Fathers of the American Revolution called Sons of Liberty. If you didn't know about it, you can follow the link and check out the episodes.
I promise that this show will be quite an eye opener for you:
Because Sons of Liberty has been aired by the History Channel, this automatically lends a degree of authority to its historical reliability, but this miniseries is less than accurate and seeks to manipulate our perception of American events. There is a specific message, a specific agenda that is baked into this show that goes beyond gratuitousness. At first blush, we can accept the soft porn storytelling as a sensationalized version of our beginnings for a society that suffers from ADHD and can't go five minutes without a hint of sludge.
And this is not to suggest that the story of our nation's founding should be canonical in nature and subject to accusations of heresy, but we know the chaos that has been created in Christianity (as a for instance) by simply trying to translate the Bible from one language to another. One word can set off a firestorm of debate that can cause irreparable schisms. Adaptations of history like Sons of Liberty can also have a lasting impact on our society if it advances inaccurate interpretations of the Revolution.
For those viewers who do not know the more orthodox accounts of the American Revolution, they will not necessarily recognize that they are being treated to revisionism. There is a narrative being driven in this miniseries that the American Revolution is akin to the Occupy Wall Street movement. That's it. Connecting the Founders to Marxism. That's all this miniseries wants to achieve.
Starting with that rapscallion, Sam Adams. We'll call him Sam Adams 2.0 because he apparently required a redesign in order to warrant interest. Bet you didn't know that Adams was a thirty-something bad-boy with a perpetual two day old beard and an unquenchable thirst for booze and rebellion.
Forget that Sam Adams was actually born in 1722 making him 54 years old at the time of our independence. Forget that he was a well-educated Harvard man with the beginnings of what sounds like Parkinson's disease at the time of the American Revolution. The writers needed a sexy anarchist and Sam Adams fit that bill because there is so little historical documentation about him…he burned most of his letters so that they wouldn't fall into the hands of the British.
We can call it artistic license on the part of the History Channel, but he never would have been physically able to jump from rooftop to rooftop if British soldiers had ever decided to relentlessly pursue him for tax evasion.
This new Sam is an uber cool, blue collar "community organizer." Described as contemptuous of wealth, he returns all of his profits to his needy brethren and never keeps anything for himself. A real man of the people, Adams is supposedly reviled by his straight-laced cousin John who is so caught up with image and profit that he can't understand the importance of the imminent revolution. Also, and I guess this is meant to add to his already disproportionate sex appeal, but Sam apparently flirts with John's wife when John is out of ear shot…hot for Abigail? I'm sorry. No. I don't think so.
The History Channel sees Sam Adams as the "Where's Waldo" of the Revolution…a revolution which has a surprising Les Miserables vibe on, I might add. For the sake of this three day series, he's written into every major event leading up to and including the Boston Massacre. Seeing as how he is made out to be the lone visionary of the Revolution, he's assigned personal responsibility for the death of Christopher Snider. He supposedly stood next to Crispus Attucks and heard the whir of the bullet in his ear as Attucks was gunned down…slow motion, Matrix-style.
Now John Adams 2.0 (played by Henry Thomas of ET fame for those of you who keep track of such things) is a reluctant revolutionary with Tory leanings. He is supposedly pulled into the revolt by Sam only after the governor threatens to take away John's land and his livelihood if he won't hand over his cousin…in truth, John Adams had already grown contemptuous of autocracy and lineage by the age of 25. His attitude about the Crown was most fully changed by the orations of James Otis (once called the greatest legal mind in all of New England) rather than the fictitious tempers and broodings of Samuel OWS. He had begun working alongside Adams and Otis producing pro-independence newspapers as early as 1768.
Ben Franklin 2.0 is ravaged as a doddering and incompetent misogynist with Tory leanings. George Washington 2.0 makes his most important contribution in the miniseries by cheering on Sam and his 99%.
Fine. Whatever. All of these artistic liberties aside, there are three characters that Sons of Liberty maligns without conscience. Three real people that have had their bios radically altered to fit the needs of writers with an agenda to grind.
Dr. Joseph Warren is heavily referenced in many history books as a close companion to the Adams cousins, John Hancock and James Otis. He was a spirited and defiant orator and was made an MG of the colonial forces just hours before he was shot dead at Bunker Hill. The British soldier who found his corpse cursed Warren as having done more mischief to British authorities than anyone else in the colonies. He was stripped of his coat, wrapped in rags and dumped in a shared grave for his sins against the Crown.
Dr. Warren 2.0 is most famous for frequently scolding Sam Adams over his revolutionary pursuits and for supposedly bedding Margaret Gage who was the wife of British General Thomas Gage. You've gotta hand it to the writers of Sons of Liberty. They've managed to provide a more offensive treatment of Joseph Warren than any British soldier could have given him.
Margaret Gage 2.0 is an American born, colonial sympathizer who is forced into a loveless marriage with General Gage after the French and Indian War. She then betrays her letch of a husband by sleeping with the enemy, turns traitor and tells Dr. Warren that the British are on their way to Lexington where they plan to wipe out the ammunition stores and capture Hancock and Adams.
I have scoured my books. What little we have on Mrs. Gage is that she was considered by the British to be sympathetic to the Bostonians and considered by the Bostonians to be a Tory. We know that her husband and her own brother were both defending the British position and that she was returned to England when the hostilities increased. There is no evidence that she was bedded by Dr. Warren. There is no evidence that she committed treason.
Seems like if you're going to turn an historical figure into a traitor, whore and adulteress, maybe there should be some substantial proof that backs that up. Not acceptable.
I saved John Hancock for last because Hancock's reputation has been savagely denigrated in this miniseries. In Sons of Liberty, Hancock 2.0 is a middle aged dandy who can best be described as a bizarre, petty, manipulative, petulant narcissist who cares only for the ill-gotten profits that he earns from the lucrative smuggling business that he inherited from his rich, entitled uncle. Because of his real life wealth, power and community standing, he has been made the whipping boy and buffoon of this story.
Contempt is heaped upon him for the sole purpose of redefining the American Revolution as a glorious socialist movement that got diverted by capitalism. John Hancock graduated fifth in his class at Harvard at the age of fourteen. He worked his way through the ranks of his uncle's business starting as a sales clerk. He wasn't handed anything. He was a smuggler trying to avoid excessive taxation and he did enjoy his wealth. Those are his two greatest transgressions in the eyes of modern revisionists. More power to him.
For the record, Hancock was one of the young bloods of the Revolution and Sam Adams was the old man who mentored him…and sometimes Adams took advantage of him and their friendship. These were humans – not gods – and they all had their flaws. But Hancock wasn't oblivious to the manipulations of Adams. He wasn't stupid, he was capable of standing up for himself and he deserves to be treated better by history and the History Channel.
We are told often enough that history is written by the conquerors. The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether we have the order reversed. Maybe history is written by those who are most determined to possess it and through that control over information, they eventually conquer. Either way, surrendering the American Revolution to revisionists seems a little premature for the time being.
Truth is immutable, but our opinion or understanding of the truth can certainly be altered if we are given a false set of premises to work with. Perspective is inherent and bias is automatically built into any examination of the past regardless of what the subject matter is. That our personal bias can't be avoided is the reason that we must keep ourselves educated and vigilant, so that misstatements about historical figures and events can be challenged as they occur.