In 1785, when John Adams sat for artist Mather Brown in London, he was one of the best known political figures in both the newly independent United States and in Europe. Adams first came to prominence in colonial Massachusetts, with his successful legal defense of British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre. Selected as a delegate to both the first and second Continental Congress (1774 and 1775), he was the most important leader for those advocating independence. Striking up a friendship with Virginia delegate Thomas Jefferson, Adams suggested that Jefferson draft a declaration of independence.
During the 1780s, Adams served in important diplomatic posts in France and Holland, and then as American ambassador in London. When Jefferson, the U.S. ambassador to France, visited Adams in London, Adams had this copy of his portrait made for his friend. Adams served under George Washington as this country's first vice president.