FACT CHECK: Did John Adams Say, ‘One Useless Man Is A Shame, Two Is A Law Firm And Three Or More Is A Congress’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A post shared on Facebook claims that founding father John Adams once said, “In my many years, I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a Congress.”

Verdict: False

There is no evidence that Adams ever made this statement. It was said, however, by the fictional Adams in the 1969 musical “1776.”

Fact Check:

The internet is littered with quotes misattributed to famous figures, the founding fathers in particular. (RELATED: Did Benjamin Franklin Say, ‘Democracy Is Two Wolves And A Lamb Voting On What To Have For Lunch’?)

The saying attributed to Adams is one such misquotation. The Daily Caller News Foundation found no evidence that he ever said or wrote these words. A search of the digital edition of The Adams Papers returned no matches.

Sara Martin, editor-in-chief of the Papers, told TheDCNF in an email that the quote comes from the 1969 Broadway musical “1776,” uttered by a character playing Adams during a monologue:

I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm; and that three or more become a Congress! And, by God, I have had this Congress! For 10 years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied and diddled these Colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns and spilled our blood! And still this Congress refuses to grant any of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God, what in Hell are you waiting for?

While this character is based on the historical figure of Adams, the lines were nonetheless imagined by the musical’s writers.

Two other historians who have studied Adams told TheDCNF that they did not recognize the phrase as a genuine Adams quote.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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