John Adams THE MAN WHO UNITED THE STATES OF AMERICA Film Mini-Guide
John Adams is considered one of the most important and influential forefathers of the United States. He came to the political forefront during the beginning of the American Revolution. Adams was against the Stamp Act and other legislation from the British government, but he was always advocated for justice and liberty. After witnessing the Boston Massacre, Adams decided to defend British soldiers involved in the conflict.
Adams relied heavily on his wife Abigail to guide him through times of political and personal turbulence. The two kept an active correspondence during his time with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Abigail Adams was very politically minded and gave her opinion openly on a number of government issues. While his beliefs on government sometimes lead him to scrutiny in the public eye, he always strived for justice. John Adams and his son John Quincy were the first father and son to be presidents. George H. Bush and his son George W. Bush are a more recent set of father and son to be presidents.
The film, John Adams chronicles the life of our nation’s second president from the Boston Massacre until the time of his death in 1826. As we move through the curriculum we will be viewing several scenes.
Before Viewing: Review
What do the two historic documents below have in common?
Doc B “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall
all hang separately.” (Benjamin Franklin, at the signing
of the Declaration of Independence)
When John hears the siren, what does he think is happening? What is actually happening?
He thinks it is a fire, and he is going to try to help.
The Boston Massacre is what is actually happening, and when he heard the scream of “fire”, it actually meant “shoot”
Why did John decide to defend Captain Preston and his men? Where was Captain Preston from?
They are all of the British soldiers and Captain from Britain. He decides to defend them because he believes in liberty and justice for all, not just the colonists. He understands that the British soldiers were not wrong in their actions. He also understands how it must feel to be in a foreign land and defending yourself with jurors of the land. (Think back to some of the British laws, and why the colonists were upset with Britain.)
Describe some of the arguments John makes on behalf of the British soldiers during the trial.
He notes that the Captain that the colonists are saying told the soldiers to shoot was in front of the soldiers. If he had told them to fire, he would have been shot first. He notes that the colonists were not throwing snowballs, but ice and oyster shells. He notes that the colonists were harassing the soldiers, and it was over 200 men and boys, all taking part in this behavior. This would have been a frightening experience for the soldiers. They were also shouting and daring the soldiers to fire, and the ‘order’ may have been misinterpreted.
How does John react when he sees a drawing of the Boston Massacre?
He is angry. He knows that the recreation drawing of the events is very biased, and does not give the complete or accurate view of the Boston Massacre.
During the trial, what do you find out really happened at the Boston Massacre? What did the colonists do?
The colonists were harassing the British soldiers.
Preston said that he would be foolish to order the men to shoot, and that it never happened, based on the story given by another colonist who did not want to lie. Preston was actually speaking to this colonist when the first shot was fired.
The soldier that shot first was a misfire after he was beaten with a club and fell to the ground.
Compare and contrast the closing arguments by each side in the trial.
While Adam’s closing argument changes based on Abigail’s advice, in the end, he simply restates the truth.
The person fighting for the prosecution states that since the British soldiers all admit to shooting and killing the five people, then they are guilty of murder. He does not believe in involuntary manslaughter in any situation if you could have escaped.
John Adam’s blames the English government for the issues between the colonists and soldiers. He asks the jurors to ignore the uniform and only look at the man – if he was a colonist and the roles were reversed, how you feel about the guilt of them?
What is the outcome of the trial?
The British soldiers are found not guilty, which is shocking to the many colonists that don’t care about guilt or innocence of the soldiers. Notice how John says Massachusetts is my country….. Each of the colonies felt as if it were on its own, and the colonies are not joined.
Why do the colonists tar and feather the British trade inspector?
They are upset about the taxes and tariffs that are forced upon them by the British government. John Hancock asks them to do this after the inspector accuses Hancock of smuggling. (side note – John Hancock was a smuggler, as were many colonists trying to avoid these taxes.)
How does John Adams react to the tarring and feathering at the harbor?
John is appalled by the actions of these colonists. He is fighting for the freedom of a fair and just government, while the colonists, including his cousin Samuel Adams, are breaking the law by torturing a person to death for doing their job.