Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. The document’s social and political ideals were proposed by Jefferson before the inauguration of Washington. At age 33, he was one of the youngest delegates to the Second Continental Congress beginning in 1775 at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, where a formal declaration of independence from Britain was overwhelmingly favored. Jefferson chose his words for the Declaration in June 1775, shortly after the war had begun, where the idea of independence from Britain had long since become popular among the colonies. He was inspired by the Enlightenment ideals of the sanctity of the individual, as well as by the writings of Locke and Montesquieu.
He sought out John Adams, an emerging leader of the Congress. They became close friends and Adams supported Jefferson’s appointment to the Committee of Five formed to draft a declaration of independence in furtherance of the Lee Resolution passed by the Congress, which declared the United Colonies independent. The committee initially thought that Adams should write the document, but Adams persuaded the committee to choose Jefferson.
Jefferson consulted with other committee members over the next seventeen days, and drew on his own proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources. The other committee members made some changes, and a final draft was presented to the Congress on June 28, 1776.
The declaration was introduced on Friday, June 28, and congress began debate over its contents on Monday, July 1, resulting in the omission of a fourth of the text, including a passage critical of King George III and the slave trade. Jefferson resented the changes, but he did not speak publicly about the revisions. On July 4, 1776, the Congress ratified the Declaration, and delegates signed it on August 2; in doing so, they were committing an act of treason against the Crown. Jefferson’s preamble is regarded as an enduring statement of human rights, and the phrase “all men are created equal” has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language” containing “the most potent and consequential words in American history”.