The Declaration of Independence
In July of 1776, the thirteen American colonies had already been at war with England for more than a year. It might seem strange that Americans would feel a need to spend time writing a formal Declaration of Independence, but that is exactly what they did. They felt obligated, they wrote at the very beginning of the Declaration, “by a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” to explain why they no longer considered themselves subjects of the British kingdom.
This suggests how members of the Continental Congress such as Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration, viewed the relationship between a government and its citizens. They believed in a “social compact” among citizens, and between citizens and government. Simply by virtue of existing, they believed, every person has an equal right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”