The Fourth of July marks the day in 1776 that the United States’ founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, calling for a new land of the free. But as we’ve seen in the intervening years — and in some of the TV shows below — “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” still aren’t inalienable rights in this country.
Here, we’ve rounded up 10 television dramas that detail specific chapters in U.S. history, from the Civil War to the Watergate Scandal.
Band of Brothers
Created by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, this Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning HBO miniseries from 2001 follows the “Easy Company” of elite U.S. World War II paratroopers from their days of training until the end of the war.
The First Lady
Depictions of U.S. presidents are a Roosevelt dime a dozen on television, but Showtime gives long-overdue attention to their spouses in this 2022 anthology series, with Gillian Anderson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Viola Davis portraying Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, and Michelle Obama, respectively.
With Julia Roberts in the lead role, this 2022 Starz political thriller shows how Martha Michell, the outspoken wife of then-President Richard Nixon’s attorney general John N. Mitchell (Sean Penn), helped blow the cover off the Watergate scandal.
The Good Lord Bird
Ethan Hawke co-created and led the cast of this 2020 Showtime miniseries, playing abolitionist John Brown, whose 1859 raid of an arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, didn’t kick off the slave revolt he imagined but did set the stage for the American Civil War.
Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, and Tom Wilkinson all won Emmys for their performances in this 2008 HBO miniseries, which follows John Adams (Giamatti) as he goes from lawyer to revolutionary to the United States’ second president, and tracks his story until his death on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
The Looming Tower
Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Lawrence Wright and serving as an indictment of intergovernmental incompatibility, this 2018 Hulu miniseries dramatizes the CIA and FBI’s rivalry during their efforts to prevent a terrorist attack in the years before 9/11.
The Equal Rights Amendment, which seeks to guarantee equal rights to Americans regardless of sex, still isn’t the law of the land, but it’s not for lack of trying, as this 2020 FX series evinces. The drama follows women on either side of the issue, with Cate Blanchett playing conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and Rose Byrne as feminist leader Gloria Steinem.
One of the most-watched U.S. TV broadcasts of all time, with some 130 million viewers tuning in for the finale, this 1977 ABC miniseries initially centers on Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), a man abducted in The Gambia and forced into slavery in the United States, before following his descendants through the Civil War era.
The Underground Railroad
Created by Barry Jenkins, the Oscar-winning director and co-writer of Moonlight, this Prime Video limited series, which debuted in 2021, adapts the Colson Whitehead novel of the same name and tells a fictional story about the real-life routes to freedom for those enslaved in the southern United States in the mid-1800s.
When They See Us
As excruciating as it is crucial, especially during the Black Lives Matter era, this 2019 Netflix miniseries from Ava DuVernay shows how a broken and biased legal system imprisoned five Black and Brown youth, who became known as the “Central Park Five,” for a rape they didn’t commit.