I am surprised at the suddenness as well as the greatness of this revolution… It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case it will have this good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues which we have not, and correct many errors, follies, and vices which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy us. The furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.
—John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776 in The Works of John Adams, vol. 1, p. 230 (C.F. Adams ed. 1856).
Watching the first two episodes of the HBO special “John Adams” on Sunday night, I was surprised to hear this passage, which I had set up to run this week, being quoted (it is temporally displaced, though only slightly, in the HBO narrative). Most Hollywood treatments of historical subjects are shlocky nonsense. But this miniseries, or at least what I have seen of it so far, shows a sort of gritty realism that allows the words and deeds of the Founding Fathers to transcend their circumstances in a still more compelling fashion. HBO offers us a lot of calorie-free entertainment, but with “John Adams” it is offering food for the mind and the soul, and the offering could not be better timed.