While Washington and his troops were fighting the war, the Second Continental Congress convened to formally manage affairs on the home front. It wasn't easy.
The "federal" system of government was not yet created. Each colony had its own legislature; there was no centralized authority to govern what was not yet a unified country. People disagreed about all kinds of things.
Most of the representatives did agree on one thing, though. The colonies needed to formally declare their independence from George III. But how would they do it?
Richard Henry Lee, a representative from Virginia, submitted a resolution on June 11, 1776. The Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, would appoint a committee to prepare a Declaration of Independence.
Drawing on his own educated background and his knowledge of John Locke's theories of civil government, Jefferson penned his initial thoughts. (Follow this link to the only surviving fragment of his preliminary work.) Years later, using the Declaration of Independence as a model, Jefferson would help his friend Lafayette write the French "Declaration of The Rights of Man."
By the time Jefferson had completed a draft (follow this link to the original manuscript) he was willing to share with the committee, the final Declaration of Independence was taking shape. After he delivered it to the full Congress, however, he had to overcome one major hurdle.
Jefferson initially included a scathing indictment of the slave trade. Had it remained in the final draft, a unanimous vote adopting the Declaration could not have happened.
The slavery denunciation was cut. The issue would be debated (and fought over) later.