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The brilliant young Virginian Congressman Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) wrote the Declaration of Independence. He restated the theories of philosopher John Locke, who thought that governments had a contract with the people to protect their rights to life, liberty and, Jefferson added, the pursuit of happiness. He listed the crimes of the British king, whom he said had broken his contract with the colonists. Not all colonists wanted independence. Many of these 'loyalists' emigrated to Canada. The idea of liberty for all prompted some colonists to begin to campaign strongly to free slaves. Slavery was given up without much fuss on the east coast by 1804.

In 1783 after signing the peace treaty with the British, the people of the new United States of America had to decide on the best way to run their country. They decided to have a president, elected every four years. He would rule with the help of a Congress (divided into a House of Representatives and a Senate made up of representatives from the states) and a Supreme Court. The draft Constitution (set of rules) for the new government contained three important statements about the American nation.

First, it was to be a union. The colonists who had fought against the British would now stay together to govern their new country. Second, each of the states would hold their own assembly, and run their own state government as they liked. Third, neither the president, the Congress nor the Supreme Court would ever be allowed to control the central government of America on their own. A system of checks and balances made sure that the power was shared between these three parts of government. The Constitution began with the words, 'We, the People of the United States...' and stated that the United States of America was to be a democracy, where all citizens had a right to take part in government.

As the third President of the United States (1801-1809), he negotiated in 1803 the purchase from France of 800,000 square miles of territory west of the Mississippi. This 'Louisiana Purchase' effectively doubled the size of the USA. Jefferson had been willing to pay up to $10 million. France, however, threatened by war in Europe, agreed to sell much more land, and Jefferson completed the purchase for just $15 million. Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to search for a route to the Pacific Ocean from St Louis.

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