Drafted by Thomas Jefferson after the Second Continental Congress's adoption of the resolution for independence on July 2, the Declaration not only proclaimed independence, but also asserted that "all men are created equal," and "endowed with certain inalienable rights," including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These broad, philosophical claims helped elevate natural rights and equality as key values of the Revolution and the new United States.
The main body of the Declaration was a more specific list of grievances against and abuses of power by King George III. This list served to explain why his rule had become illegitimate and why the colonists were justified in declaring themselves independent.
Jefferson's first draft contained a denunciation of the slave trade as "cruel war against human nature itself." He blamed George III and Britain more broadly for the trade and for preventing its abolition, and he accused the king of encouraging slave rebellion in the colonies (see entries for Williamsburg Powder Magazine and Dunmore's Proclamation).
Jefferson blamed opposition from South Carolina and from northern delegates whose colonies had been engaged in the slave trade for the deletion of the passage. Scholars debate the significance of the passage, but tend to highlight Jefferson's own hypocrisy here: the passage placed all blame on George III, and was silent on the colonies' own eager participation in and substantial (and continuing) profits from slavery and the slave trade; moreover, it treated slavery purely instrumentally, containing no real acknowledgement of or interest in slaves' own humanity (see Kornblith, pp. 19-20).