“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Of course, that declaration would be heard the world over as thirteen small British colonies began an experiment that would change the face of the world. The words came out of a Continental Congress, more specifically a committee that included Ben Franklin and John Adams. But it is neither of those men from whose pen came the liberating words of the Declaration of Independence. That honor belonged exclusively to the young wordsmith Thomas Jefferson. He would put words to the spirit of rebellion that consumed a small corner of a great continent. He would become our third president and the first to expand the country by more than double with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Bonaparte in France. His concept of the separation of church and state would become known as Jefferson’s Wall and become one of the most abused and misunderstood rights of the Constitution. He was an inventor. He was a naturalist, cataloging hundreds of new species of plants and animals. He was a meteorologist, leaving us the first accurate records of America’s climate. He would die on the Fourth of July at the 50th anniversary of his famous document.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
Join A&E for a fascinating look at the life of one of America’s most remarkable founding fathers. He was also quite a study in contrast. He championed the concept of equality, yet he owned slaves his entire life. The information is provided by a few history professors, but I’m afraid none of these folks are real Jeffersonian authorities. We get a pop history reading from each of them. The information is quite general and even outright incorrect at times. There are many important aspects of his life that are ignored. Of course, you can’t fit an entire life in 90 minutes, and decisions have to be made. But over half of the show lingers on his relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings. It’s an important point, yes. But, the show borders on political correctness in the number of times this relationship is mentioned.
Much of the story is told through small dramatatizations of Jefferson and the events surrounding his life. There are plenty of pictures of portraits and the current condition at Monticello. Don’t expect to gain much insight into the man or his accomplishments. This is certainly not one of A&E’s better pieces, I’m afraid. This historian found it utterly disappointing.
The documentary is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It is a documentary so the image presentation isn’t intended to catch your attention. The interview clips and drama moments look natural enough. There aren’t any serious compression issues to be found. It’s pretty much television quality, as you should pretty much expect.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is entirely intended for the narration and talking heads. It’s clear and does the job just fine.
Lately I’ve had the pleasure of watching quite a lot of the A&E and History offerings. For the most part, there are solid shows available from the networks. But, they say you can’t win them all, and this Jefferson documentary fails miserably at every turn. I’ve been a student of Jefferson’s since I was a child who stood mesmerized outside the rooms where he penned his famous document. I’d often fantasize about the city as he had seen it then. I own many biographies and writings from Jefferson himself. A copy of the Declaration hangs over my fireplace. I was eager to delve into this documentary. I’m afraid someone didn’t do enough homework as a student. “To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.”