John Nicholas (congressman)

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John Nicholas
Member of the New York Senate from the Western District
In office
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 18th district
In office
March 4, 1793 – March 3, 1801
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPhilip R. Thompson
Personal details
Born(1764-01-19)January 19, 1764
Williamsburg, Virginia Colony, British America
DiedDecember 31, 1819(1819-12-31) (aged 55)
Geneva, New York, U.S.
Political partyAnti-Administration (1793–95)
Democratic-Republican (after 1795)
RelationsPeter Myndert Dox (grandson)
EducationCollege of William & Mary
Occupationattorney, farmer, judge

John Nicholas (January 19, 1764 – December 31, 1819)[1] was an American lawyer, farmer, and politician from Williamsburg, Virginia. He represented Virginia in the U.S. House from 1793 to 1801.

Early life[edit]

Nicolas was born on January 19, 1764 in Williamsburg, in what was then the Colony of Virginia in British America. He was a son of Judge Robert Carter Nicholas (1729–1780) and Ann (née Cary) Nicholas (1735–1786), a daughter of Wilson Miles Cary, who was from one of Virginia's oldest and wealthiest families. Among his siblings were Kentucky Attorney General George Nicholas (father of U.S. Senator Robert C. Nicholas), and Governor Wilson Cary Nicholas.[2]

After attending the common schools he graduated from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, studied law, and was admitted to the bar and practiced in his native county.[3]


Nicolas was elected as an Anti-Administration candidate to the Third Congress and reelected as a Republican to the three succeeding Congresses, serving from March 4, 1793 until March 3, 1801.[3]

In 1798, before the enactment of the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials, Nicholas declared the proposed Act to be unconstitutional. The Act was inconsistent with the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, Nicholas said, because the press could be punished for publishing true statements if it were not possible to prove the truth of the statements, which is often the case. In 1799, when Republicans in the House proposed to repeal the Sedition Act, a party line vote resulted in the rejection of the proposal. Nicholas wrote a minority report describing the policy goal of the Act as being related to Great Britain's form of government: "The King is hereditary, and according to the theory of their Government, can do no wrong. Public officers are his representatives, and derive some portion of his inviolability." Nicholas distinguished this form of deferential respect for public officers to the level of respect owed to their American counterparts, who serve the people and can be removed from office during elections.[4]

Later life[edit]

In 1803, Nicholas moved to Geneva, New York and started a farm. From 1806 until 1809 he served in the New York State Senate and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas from 1806 until his death in 1819.[3]

Personal life[edit]

In 1795, he married Anne Rose Lawson (1770–1838), a daughter of Gavin Lawson and Susanna (née Rose) Lawson. Together, they were the parents of:[2]

  • Gavin Lawson Nicholas (1791–1874)[5]
  • Ann Cary Nicholas (1793–1860), who married Abraham Dox.[6]
  • Jane Lawson Nicholas (1799–1855)[7]
  • Robert Carter Nicholas (1801–1854), a New York State Senator who married Mary S. Rose, daughter of Congressman Robert S. Rose, in 1827.[7]
  • Elizabeth Randolph Nicholas (1804–1820), who died young.[7]
  • Sarah Norton Nicholas (1806–1814), who died young.[7]
  • Margaret Caroline Nicholas (1808–1851), who married Frederick Baldwin Leonard, son of Timothy Leonard, in 1835.[7]
  • Mary Blair Nicholas (1811–1823), who died young.[7]
  • John Nicholas (1814–1854), who married Virginia Gallagher in 1839.[7]

He died at home on December 31, 1819, and is buried in the Glenwood Cemetery in Geneva.[3]


  1. ^ Pultney Street Cemetery, Geneva, NY
  2. ^ a b Johnson, Rossiter; Brown, John Howard (1904). The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans ... Biographical Soceity. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d "NICHOLAS, John 1757 – 1819". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  4. ^ Lewis, Anthony (1991). Make No Law: the Sullivan case and the First Amendment. Random House, Inc. pp. 60. ISBN 0-394-58774-X.
  5. ^ Grover, Kathryn (January 1, 1995). Make a Way Somehow: African-American Life in a Northern Community, 1790-1965. Syracuse University Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8156-2627-5. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  6. ^ Talcott, Sebastian Visscher (1973). Genealogical Notes of New York and New England Families. Genealogical Publishing Com. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-8063-0537-0. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g du Bellet, Louise Pecquet (1907). Some Prominent Virginia Families. J.P. Bell Company (Incorporated). p. 323. Retrieved January 23, 2023.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
District created
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 18th congressional district

Succeeded by