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This multi-Emmy award-winning series by PBS debuted in 1976 to commemorate the Bicentennial. The balance of education and entertainment is suitable for the whole family.

DVD Review: The Adams Chronicles

The Adams Chronicles is a multi-Emmy award winning, 13-episode series by PBS that debuted in 1976 to commemorate the Bicentennial. It dramatizes the story of four generations of the Adams political family that resonates over a 150-year time span.

The story begins with John Adams, revolutionary and second President; continues with John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State and sixth President; then to Charles Francis Adams, congressman and ambassador to Great Britain during the Civil War; and finally his two sons – Henry Brooks Adams, the historian and author of the novel Democracy, and Charles Francis Adams, the industrialist.

This is the first time The Adams Chronicles has appeared on DVD. It is contained on four discs and is 780 minutes (13 hours) long. It contains 13 one-hour chapters, which makes it very convenient to watch in digestible sections. It also comes with a 12-page program guide that features articles by C. James Taylor, the editor-in-chief of the Adams Papers, and Neil Horstman, the president of the White House Historical Association.

Volume 1 focuses on John Adams. It begins with him starting as a lawyer, how he tries to make his way as a reputable lawyer and how he meets his future wife. We then quickly progress to the revolutionary. Here he finds that to stand on principles you sometimes have to do things you don’t want to do – like defending the Redcoats that participated in the Boston Massacre. This volume then traces him to diplomat in France with Benjamin Franklin, and finally as Minister to Great Britain.

Volume 2 continues with John Adams as America’s first Vice President and how he finds himself at odds with a long time friend, Thomas Jefferson. Adams becomes President as war rages in Europe, and factions threaten his presidency. He saves the nation, and in doing so, sacrifices a second term. It is in this volume that we get into John Quincy Adams as a diplomat and Ambassador to Russia.

Volume 3 now takes John Quincy Adams into the position of Secretary of State in which he expands the U.S. territory to the Pacific and drafts the Monroe Doctrine. When the next election yields no convincing winner, it is said that he made a deal with Henry Clay to secure the presidency. When he takes the office of President, it is to negative press perpetuated from Andrew Jackson and it leads to frustrated efforts to institutionalize nation programs. He only serves one term as President, but subsequently he does win a seat in Congress where he spends the final 17 years of his life.

Volume 4 finishes up the program with one chapter each on the final three Adams. We begin with Charles Francis Adams who, on the eve of the Civil war, becomes the third generation to be appointed minister to Great Britain. While two of his sons fight on the battlefield, he strives to keep the British from helping the South. Henry Adams, a son of Charles Francis Adams, sets off to make his own mark on the world by becoming a noted historian. His brother, Charles Francis Adams II, makes his own way by taking control of the Union Pacific Railroad and attempts to expand the business, almost to the point of bankrupting it.

The Adams Chronicles is truly a great series and its aspirations are lofty in trying to cover 150 years. It portrays the family as husbands, wives, fathers, brothers, and family. They, too, were also leaders. Much of this was based on the family’s personal diaries and correspondence.

The Adams Chronicles provides much historical data and the character portraits are quite good. The filming does have that 1970’s PBS feel to it, but once you start watching, you are really drawn into to it and you can see why it won so many Emmy awards.

The video is in good shape, especially for being over 30 years old, with good sharpness and color. The sound is clear and has good fidelity. There are no subtitles. As a history buff, I think it is great that this has finally come to DVD. It has a good balance of education and entertainment suitable for the whole family. I highly recommend this DVD.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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