Before Americans were American, they were British. Before Americans governed themselves, they were governed by a distant British king. Before America was an independent state, it was a dependent colony. Before Americans claimed equal rights, they were subject to British tyranny. What brought about these transformations? The Declaration of Independence of 1776.
Jefferson and other members of the founding generation were deeply influenced by the 18th-century European intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophy stressed that liberty and equality were natural human rights.