Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Founding Fathers and the History Channel

The History Channel has made a few documentaries about the lives of the Founding Fathers. There is one in particular that I would like to talk about here, which is their three-hour program simply entitled "Founding Fathers."

This program covers the lives of ten - count 'em, ten - Founding Fathers. They are: Samuel Adams, John Hancock, John Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. That's a lot of Founding Father biographies to try and squeeze in three hours, and this program doesn't cover any one of them in much depth.

Nonetheless, this makes for a good brief overview of these ten Founding Fathers. This is the only documentary I've been able to find covering some of these men - I've been unable to find anything else about Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, or James Madison (although PBS did do a documentary about Dolley Madison, which is quite good). But the lives of the other five men are better covered elsewhere.

The other main weakness of this film is that it has a touch of sensationalism. In the beginning of every episode, they play a commentator saying "Alexander Hamilton had the nation's first sex scandal." A worthy topic, but it could have been handled more tastefully, without the sensationalism that so often characterizes the History Channel's programs.

If you're after biographical documentaries about the other five men, these links will lead you to much better (and more in-depth) programs:

Benjamin Franklin
George Washington
Alexander Hamilton
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson

One other thing before I close this post: The History Channel did a three-hour follow-up to this program called "Founding Brothers," based on Joseph Ellis's Pulitzer-Prize-winning book of the same name. This program is much better-made, and on a par with some of the best from PBS. They use the same excellent actors as in their previous film, but this one covers the lives of the Founding Fathers after George Washington's inauguration for his first term. Specifically, it covers the presidential administrations of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, ending with some coverage of the remarkable correspondence between former political rivals John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. These two men both passed away on Independence Day, 50 years to the day after they signed the Declaration of Independence. This film is much better, and is highly recommended to anyone interested in what happened to the main Founding Fathers after the Revolution was over.

Other posts about the Founding Fathers

Founding Brothers miniseries

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