Notes on the State of Virginia

Notes on the State of Virginia

Notes on the State of Virginia

Notes on the State of Virginia

Excerpt

Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia is unique in American literary history. Begun almost accidentally as an essentially statistical survey, the Notes on Virginia is an engrossing commentary on various aspects of American life and history during the last decades of the eighteenth century. In it, along with accounts of such factual matters as iron mines in Virginia or North American birds, Jefferson discusses in detail most of his major intellectual, social, political, scientific, and ethical beliefs. Here are to be found his ideas concerning religious freedom or the separation of church and state, his analysis of the ideals of representative government versus dictatorship, his theories of art and education, his attitude concerning slavery and the Negro, his interest in science.

The Notes on Virginia is probably the most important scientific and political book written by an American before 1785; upon it much of Jefferson's contemporary fame as a philosopher was based. The Notes reveals more clearly than any of his writings except his letters the flexibility of Jefferson's mind and the breadth of his interests. Anyone interested in Jefferson and his times will find the Notes on Virginia an indispensable book. It is, moreover, a remarkably lively and entertaining one. In spite of its statistics, which are of little interest to the lay reader, the Notes on Virginia is a book for today; it is valuable both as an introduction to Jefferson and as a commentary on problems as relevant to our own generation as they were to his.

Jefferson became an author almost in spite of himself. His book was commenced and for the most part composed during perhaps the darkest period of his life, in the final months of his career as wartime governor of an invaded Virginia and in the troubled period immediately following his retirement from that office. The motivating impulse behind Jefferson's book was the desire of the French government to amass a body of pertinent information concerning the American states, with whose fortunes the French were becoming increasingly involved at a . . .

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