The image of John Adams that always sticks in my mind is the outspoken figure from 1776 The Musical: "For God's Sake, John, Sit Down!" For a more multi-dimensional picture of lawyer, diplomat, political theorist, and president of the United States John Adams (19 Oct. 1735-4 July 1826), try John Adams by David McCullough.
Favorite Adams Quotes
There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty. - Notes for an oration at Braintree (Spring 1772)
Human nature with all its infirmities and depravation is still capable of great things. It is capable of attaining to degrees of wisdom and goodness, which we have reason to believe, appear as respectable in the estimation of superior intelligences. Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and brute. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing. Newton and Locke are examples of the deep sagacity which may be acquired by long habits of thinking and study. - Letter to Abigail Adams (29 October 1775), published Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, Vol. 1 (1841), ed. Charles Francis Adams, p. 72
I agree with you that in politics the middle way is none at all. - Letter to Horatio Gates (23 March 1776)
Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America; and a greater perhaps never was, nor will be, decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States." - On the decision to proclaim independence from British rule, which was made on 2 July 1776, in a letter to Abigail Adams (3 July 1776), published in The Adams Papers: Adams Family Correspondence (2007) edited by Margaret A. Hogan
I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. - Letter to Abigail Adams (3 July 1776), published in The Adams Papers: Adams Family Correspondence (2007) edited by Margaret A. Hogan
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore. - Letter to Abigail Adams (3 July 1776); because of the official adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence two days later, the fourth of July rather than the second, became known as the U.S. Independence Day
More on Wikiquote.