Press-Republican

Columns

August 12, 2011

Canada's version of John Adams

I've spent a goodly chunk of my vacation with John Adams. That's not some visiting relative who won't leave, but the HBO series on the second U.S. president. It's been running on Canada's History channel for the past five weeks, and I've been taping it in anticipation of having the time to sit down and watch it in an extended stretch.

I am untroubled by the fact the series debuted in 2008; after all, the basic facts of the remarkable story have not changed in the 185 years since Adams died (on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the same day as Thomas Jefferson passed — but I guess all Americans know this).

Having spent so much time watching Paul Giamatti and cast sweat through 50 of the formative years of the USA in powdered wigs and heavy wool frocks, I am left with several thoughts. One is how well the series succeeds in capturing the human drama of the American uprising against the British and the creation of a new country. That's probably a tribute to how well the producers adapted the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by David McCullough.

I'm also left thinking who might be the Canadian equivalent of John Adams, an individual who had a crucial role in the creation of his country and without whom things could have gone badly, very differently — or nowhere.

Of course the circumstances leading to the creation of each country are quite distinct, but the key common denominator is that both colonial entities had to find a way to shake off the Brits. Adams and company did so with a unilateral declaration of independence backed by a willingness to shed blood.

British North Americans, by contrast, had to wheedle and wangle their way out of the British grip, and, we should note, the job remains unfinished since Elizabeth 2 is still constitutionally queen of Canada.

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