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Notes on the State of Virginia was a book written by Thomas Jefferson. Originally written in 1781, it was subsequently updated and enlarged in 1782-83, and anonymously published in Parismarker in a limited, private edition of a few hundred copies in 1784. Its first public English-language edition, issued by John Stockdale in London, appeared in 1787. It was the only full-length book by Jefferson published during his lifetime, though he did issue a Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States, generally known as Jefferson's Manual, in 1801. Notes on the State of Virginia collects the answers that Jefferson prepared for questions posed to Jefferson about Virginiamarker by François Barbé-Marbois then Secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia.

Often dubbed the most important American book published before 1800, Notes on the State of Virginia is both a compilation of data and a vigorous and often eloquent argument about the nature of the good society, which Jefferson saw incarnated by his beloved state of Virginia. In Notes we find some of Jefferson's most memorable statements of belief in such political, legal, and constitutional principles as the separation of church and state, constitutional government, checks and balances, and individual liberty. We also find Jefferson's passionate and convincing refutation of the argument that nature, plant life, animal life, and human life all degenerate in the New World by contrast with their state in the Old World. This argument is a direct refutation of the arguments posed by the French naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon in his authoritative Histoire Naturelle.

Finally, two different chapters, called "Queries," present Jefferson's hostility to slavery (Query XVIII, "Manners") and his tortured attempts to explain and justify American chattel slavery, by reference to what he called "the real distinctions which nature has made" between people of Caucasian descent and people of African descent (Query XIV, "Laws"). According to Laws, Jefferson held contemporary beliefs, on the least persuasive grounds, that Blacks were inferior to Whites in terms of potential citizenship, and he wanted them deported. Jefferson's solution entailed gauging what he perceived to be the common good for both Whites and Blacks, and proposed what he considered to be reasonable policies: education, emancipation, and to colonize emancipated slave children outside of the United States.
 Thomas Jefferson believed that Blacks were inferior to Whites in terms of beauty and reasoning intelligence. According to Manners, Jefferson's beliefs include slavery is demoralizing to both White and Black society and man is an "imitative animal".


Outline

The text is divided into 23 chapters, known as "Queries," each describing a different aspect of the state of Virginia.
  1. Boundaries of Virginia
  2. Rivers
  3. Sea Ports
  4. Mountains
  5. Cascades
  6. Productions mineral, vegetable and animal
  7. Climate
  8. Population
  9. Military force
  10. Marine force
  11. Aborigines
  12. Counties and towns
  13. Constitution
  14. Laws
  15. Colleges, buildings, and roads
  16. Proceedings as to Tories
  17. Religion
  18. Manners
  19. Manufactures
  20. Subjects of commerce
  21. Weights, Measures and Money
  22. Public revenue and expences
  23. Histories, memorials, and state-papers


References

  • The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson. The Modern Library, 1944.
  • Thomas Jefferson: Writings: Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters (1984, ISBN 978-0-94045016-5) Library of America edition.
  • David Tucker, Enlightened Republicanism: A Study of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (Lexington Books, 2008) ISBN 9780739117927
  • R. B. Bernstein, Thomas Jefferson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003; pbk, 2005) ISBN 978-0195181302
  • Robert A. Ferguson, Law and Letters in American Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984) ISBN 9780674514669


Notes

  1. Jefferson in fact believed that the color of the skin was the primary difference between African Americans and Caucasians. He writes in Laws, "The first difference which strikes us is that of colour." Jefferson believed that skin color was the foundation of "greater or lesser" beauty between the two races. Body symmetry and hair texture were other categories for determining beauty between the two races, according to Jefferson.


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