Principally authored by Thomas Jefferson, and adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence announced that the 13 American colonies now considered themselves sovereign states—separate from the power of the British crown—and a new nation, the United States of America.
It was John Adams who was first asked to draft the Declaration of Independence, at which he famously quipped that it should be Thomas Jefferson, not himself, writing the Declaration. Adams provided three reasons: Jefferson was a Virginian, Adams was “obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular” while Jefferson was “very much otherwise,” and “you [Jefferson] can write ten times better than I [Adams] can.” Seventeen days later Jefferson produced the first draft of what would become one of history’s best-known documents on political philosophy and human rights. It has inspired numerous national declarations of independence throughout the world. Particularly its second sentence—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—was immensely important to the development of a burgeoning American nation, and remains one of the most well-known statements in the English language.
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Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was the third president of the United States of America and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He served in the Continental Congress as a representative from Virginia, and was the wartime governor of Virginia. He served as the United States minister to France after the Revolutionary War and was the first secretary of state, under George Washington. He was close friends with James Madison, with whom he cofounded the Democratic-Republican Party in opposition to the Federalist Party. He was elected president in 1800 and oversaw the Louisiana Purchase. A key figure in the Enlightenment and a polymath, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia after his two terms as president. He died a few hours before John Adams, on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the United States officially declared independence.