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Exchange: Waldman on the Fourth Hour of 'John Adams'

Never has George Washington felt so alive to me.

John Patrick Diggins, author of John Adams: The American Presidents Series, Steven Waldman, author of Founding Faith, and Kirk Ellis, writer and co-executive producer of the HBO miniseries "John Adams," are discussing the show on This is the sixth entry in their conversation. (Follow their complete dialogue here: Entries 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

Click here to read the previous entry in the discussion.

Dear Jack and Kirk,

Thanks for joining us, Kirk. Congratulations again--it's a great show.

Before commenting on Part 4, I wanted to respond to two points in your post:

First, for what its worth, I argue in my new book, Founding Faith, that most of the Founders were not Deists, as you suggested. They believed in a God that intervened actively in history and their lives.

Second, in responding to Jack’s and my concern that the patriot rationale for rebellion wasn't compelling, you note that you aired the argument that the British raised taxes in order to pay for the French and Indian War. But that would seem to prove our point. That dialogue only made the Brits seem reasonable and the patriots seem selfish and whiny. As the show flows, the serious British malfeasance came after much colonial mischief.

Now, about the fourth episode. It has two extraordinary scenes. One is the (first-ever?) scene of Founding Father sex. Since HBO brought us erotic polygamy and red-hot funeral-home love, I would have been disappointed if they hadn't found revolutionary fervor in the Founding Bedrooms. But I must ask Kirk Ellis: How did you research the scene when John and Abigail are re-united after years apart and have a few moments alone?

Finally, I had goose bumps watching the scene of George Washington's inauguration. David Morse's portrayal of George Washington is probably the best pop cultural depiction of the first president. He captures Washington's great skill at using reticence to convey quiet, Gary Cooper-type authority, charisma even. Washington used his physical stature to impress; it's no accident that Washington wears his military uniform to the Continental Congress deliberations though he was there as a civilian delegate.

The scene at the First Inaugural--when John Adams is awkwardly holding court while waiting for the festivities to begin--was metaphorically perfect: A room full of confused patriots fumbling through this unprecedented moment until Washington enters, effortlessly putting everyone at ease. He takes the oath of office in a voice so faint, everyone is forced to lean in and listen carefully; even his inaudibility raised his stature. I've never had trouble imagining Adams and Jefferson as real people, but Washington has always seemed like a cardboard cut out. His face on the dollar bill always struck me as puffy and slightly effeminate--more like a puritan matron than a general. But the George Washington in this HBO series? That's a man I'd follow into battle.



Click here to read the next entry in the discussion.

John Patrick Diggins is a professor of history at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and the author of John Adams: The American Presidents Series. Kirk Ellis is the writer and co-executive producer of HBO's John Adams. Steven Waldman is the editor-in-chief of and author of the newly released Founding Faith.

By John Patrick Diggins, Kirk Ellis, and Steven Waldman