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John Adams (TV Mini-Series 2008) Poster

(2008 TV Mini-Series)

Goofs

Anachronisms 

When President John Quincy Adams is discussing his goals with his father, he states that he'll outline these objectives in his State of the Union address. The term "State of the Union Address" was not in use until 1934. At that time, 1825, it was referred to as the Annual Message to Congress.
Abigail Adams makes reference to the "White House", although this term was not in use until Teddy Roosevelt's administration one hundred years later.
In at least two episodes the word "escalate" is used. This word was not coined until the early 20th Century, and did not see common usage until the 1960s.
When Adams arrives in Philadelphia for the first congress, The Pennsylvania State House is shown behind him with its current steeple. In 1774 the original steeple was still in place - it had no clock.
In the series' historical era, barrel hoops were made of bent wood or of blacksmith-wrought strap iron. However, most casks and barrels pictured in the series have perfectly smooth factory-stamped strap-iron hoops (of the type made from the later 19th Century to the present).
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Character error 

John Trumbull asserts that his painting, "Declaration of Independence" was well researched for authenticity, but contained many inaccuracies; principally that it showed a noticeably higher Congressional attendance than actually occurred at any given session. Even if one can grant artistic license to allow for the depiction members who were not actually present on 28 June 1776, it shows Charles Caroll of Carlton who was not only elsewhere at the time, but was not even a member yet. Caroll was elected by Maryland on 4 July and did not arrive in Philadelphia until well after that.
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When John Adams is shown John Trumbull's painting, "Declaration of Independence" by Trumbull and John Quincy Adams, he comments in an archetypal scene of an elderly man looking at a group painting from long ago, that all of the men (apart from Jefferson and himself) are dead. In fact, Charles Carroll of Carrollton is the shown as the center of the three men seated in the back row, in front of the room's left door; Carroll was also alive when Adams saw the painting and he survived Adams and Jefferson by more than six years. However, Adams and Jefferson *were* the only men alive at that point who were members of the Continental Congress on 28 June 1776 when the painting takes place, and/or who voted in favor of the Declaration on 4 July 1776. Carroll was elected to office on 4 July.
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Crew or equipment visible 

A camera is reflected in the carriage window glass during a close-up of young John Quincy Adams just before his departure for Russia. Even the lettering (reversed in the reflection but readable) of the camera's make and model are clearly visible: ARRIFLEX 35.

Errors in geography 

General Knox is shown passing the Adams farmstead with the captured guns from Fort Ticonderoga. Braintree is 10 miles south and a bit east of their emplacement on Dorchester Heights overseeing Boston - -a considerable detour for vital ordinance.
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Factual errors 

Despite the fact that the first two episodes span more than six years (1770-1776), neither Nabby Adams nor John Quincy Adams seem to age. Since they were born in 1765 and 1767 respectively, both should have grown and aged significantly - from toddlers to young children - over that span of time.
The Second Episode "Independence" of the series has the "First Congress" meeting in 1775. They actually met briefly in 1774. It was the "Second Continental Congress who met in 1775 and STAYED in session until 1781 (the end of the war).
When the militia man is telling Abigail Adams about the "Battle of Bunker Hill" and when John Adams is telling of General Warren's death, both say that the battle took place on Bunker Hill. The militia man CERTAINLY would have known that the battle actually took place on Breed's Hill (adjoining Bunker Hill), and John Adams probably would have known the difference as well. However, this is a common error, not only perpetrated by books, but by spoken word recordings as well.
The film shows all troops acquitted for the Boston Massacre, however two men were found guilty of murder because they were found to fire directly into the crowd. John Adams was able to have their charges reduced to manslaughter due to a loophole in British law by proving the men could read. The two solders were punished by branding on their thumbs.
The First Continental Congress which occurred in 1774, actually met in Carpenter's Hall, about one block away from Independence Hall. It was not held in Independence Hall as the series suggests. It was held here because they could not meet in Independence Hall due to the number of Tories who were in the Hall. The sessions of the First Continental Congress were also held in secret.
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John Quincy Adams was just two and a half and Nabby Adams just four and a half at the time of the Boston Massacre. They are both shown to be more mature and about four or five years older than they actually were in March, 1770.
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Capt. Preston is shown as being tried for the Boston Massacre with his troops, however he was tried (and acquitted) separately nearly a month before his men.
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During the scenes in England, the Guards at the Palace are wearing the wrong type of coat. All three of the British Regiments of Foot Guards, who guarded the Royal Household, would have worn red coats faced with blue, not white as is shown in the film. The chevrons of lace on the lower sleeves are also incorrect, and are of the type worn by cavalry at the time.
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In the series, only John Adams' son John Quincy accompanies him to Europe. In reality, Adams made two trips to Europe before the war ended. John Quincy accompanied Adams on the first trip. On the second trip, Adams' two older sons, John Quincy and Charles (who was shown in the film as being angry at his father for not allowing him to join), accompanied him, along with a secretary and personal servant.
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When arriving at St. James's Palace in 1785, John Adams and the audience glance up to see the Union Flag (same as the Union Jack, but on land). As a royal palace, the Union Flag would not have flown there before 1997. As His Majesty was present, the Royal Standard would have flown; in his absence, the flagstaff would have been bare. Prompted by the controversy over the propriety of showing remorse over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, British royal vexillological protocol was altered in 1997 such that the Union Flag now flies over royal residences when the monarch is absent; however, the Royal Standard still flies in place of the Union Flag when the sovereign is present.
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In episode #4, Adams returns home to the U.S and to his new house, Peacefield, from his stint as Foreign Minister to Great Britain. At Peacefield his daughter, Nabby, is courted by Colonel Smith. In reality, they met in England and were married there during John Adams's time as Foreign Minister. Nabby and Smith were married in 1786 and Adams returned from England in 1788.
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In episode 5 John Adams is shown as casting the deciding vote on the Jay Treaty as the vote in Congress was tied. In reality the Jay Treaty required a 2/3 majority to pass and the efforts were headed by Alexander Hamilton.
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After the death of Abigail there is a scene where Dr. Benjamin Rush is consoling John Adams and encourages him to write to Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Rush died 5 years before Abigail.
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The film depicts the reconciliation of Adams and Jefferson as taking place after the death of Abigail Adams in 1818. Their famous correspondence actually started in 1812. He was well aware that she was dying before the final news came.
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Near the end of the final installment, John Adams is seen chastising painter John Trumbull for the historical inaccuracy of the 12'x18' painting, "Declaration of Independence". Adams' overall reaction was accurately depicted. The error is that Adams is shown yelling at Trumbull that the signers were not all present at one time and did not sign en masse, while Trumbull pleads artistic license. In fact, Trumbull did not intend the painting to depict the *signing* of the Declaration, at all; but rather the June 28, 1776, presentation of the draft of the document to the Continental Congress by the drafting committee composed of Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Sherman and Livingston.
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Thomas Jefferson's last words were "Is it the Fourth?" to which the reply was actually more along the lines of "Not yet, Mr. President, but it soon will be." His last words were uttered not on July 4th, but the waning hours of July 3rd. He died unconscious on the Fourth.
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Charles Adams is seen being taught by his mother along with Nabby and John Quincy right before the Massacre trial in March 1770. Actually Charles was not even born yet. He wasn't born until November 1770.
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After John Adams loses the 1800 election to Thomas Jefferson he is seen riding down the road from the White House in his carriage. In the distance down what is presumably Pennsylvania Avenue, the entire Capitol building of today is seen under construction. In actuality only a small section of the Capitol had been completed by 1800 and the full building as we know it today was not completed until after the Civil War
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"Nabby" Adams died of breast cancer at age 48, yet in the series she is depicted as being barely out of her twenties when she dies.
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Incorrectly regarded as goofs 

The "Join or Die" design used throughout the series preceded revolutionary ideals by more than two decades. It was designed and published in the Philadelphia Gazette in 1750 by Benjamin Franklin and was used in promoting the Albany Plan to form a united colonial government under British rule to counter the French. The plan was rejected in both Great Britain and the colonies. However, the cartoon was once again used during the Revolutionary War as a way of courting colonial unity against the British.
Episode 5 shows John Adams brushing his teeth with a toothbrush - this is not incorrect, although toothbrushing was not the most common form of dental hygiene at the time. Most people, especially the poor, would have rubbed their teeth with a rag and salt or ashes. Tooth brushes were in use in China c. 1400, in England about 1690, and mass produced tooth brushes were available in the 1780s. The modern American toothbrush was invented in 1938.
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See also

Trivia | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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