Painted portrait of second President of the United States John Adams.

John Adams

(1735 - 1826)

By 1765 John Adams had earned considerable renown as a lawyer, electing to defend both John Hancock, against accusations of smuggling, and Thomas Preston, the British officer in charge during the Boston Massacre. Later, he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780, signed of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, served as the first American ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1785, was elected the first vice president in 1789, and became the second U.S. president in 1797. Benjamin Rush wrote of Adams, “Every member of Congress in 1776 acknowledged him to be the first man in the House.”

All Writing

Fear is the foundation of most governments. 

—John Adams, 1776


For publishing an editorial critical of John Adams’ Federalist administration in 1798, Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon became the first U.S. citizen tried under the Sedition Act. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in federal jail. He ran his reelection campaign from prison, winning by a two-to-one margin. He resumed his post upon release.

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