On May 26, 1776, John Adams - who represented Massachusetts at the Second Continental Congress - wrote exultantly to his friend James Warren that "every post and every day rolls in upon us independence like a torrent." Adams had reason for rejoicing, for this was what he and others had hoped and worked for almost since the Congress had convened in May of the previous year. It helped, to be sure, that George III had proclaimed the colonies in rebellion, and this encouraged the Americans to take him at his word. Later, George Washington proceeded to drive General Howe out of Boston. This demonstrated that Americans need not stand on the defensive, but could vindicate themselves in military strategy quite as well as in political.
However exciting to some, America was going through the difficult process of being born. In any event, the stage of history was being set. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced three resolutions calling for independence, foreign alliances, and confederation. Some wanted unity and voted to postpone the final vote for three weeks. This allowed time for debate and for the hesitant and fainthearted to come over or step out. In the meantime, Congress appointed a committee to prepare a "Declaration of Independence." This committee consisted of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson had come to the Continental Congress the previous year, bringing with him a reputation for literature, science, and a talent for composition. His writings, said John Adams, "were remarkable for their peculiar felicity of expression." In part because of his rhetorical gifts, in part because he already had a reputation for working quickly, in part because it was thought that Virginia - as the oldest, the largest, and the most deeply committed of the states - should take the lead, the committee unanimously turned to Jefferson to prepare a draft declaration.