Notes on State of Virginia; Thomas Jefferson
June 11th, 2010 Notes on the States of Virginia Notes on the States of Virginia was the full length book written by Thomas Jefferson in 1781, during the American revolutionary war. In 1780, the secretary of the French legation to the United States “Francois Marbois” had drawn up 22 questions wishing to collect information on each of the 13 states to answer to his superiors. Those questions were sent to several possible informants including Joseph Jones, who at that time a member of congressional delegation.
He had written the original questionnaire in his own hand writing and had given it to Thomas Jefferson; the second governor of Virginia who he had thought was the best person to answer all of the complicated questions about the beloved state. Joseph Jones knew about this Virginian’s knowledge and passion about the largest of the 13 original states. Jefferson rearranged Marboi’s 22 queries into the 23 queries and conducts his readers from a discussion of geography of Virginia through the state’s civilization.
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The book is very dialectic and its intended audiences were French government and Frenchmen, and Jefferson often opposed to Buffon, a French nature historian, about his claims of nature of America compare to of Europe. It outlined Virginia’s geography, people, climates, historical aspects, government and civilization. The notes is somewhat very argumentative in a way it reflects his thoughts of idealistic society along with facts and data about Virginia. His arguments were often about nature including animals, plants, natural resources, inhabitants, human life and etc.
In Thomas Jefferson’s note, I often found his beliefs in the separation of church and state, individual liberty, and relative characteristics between different races in 18th century Virginia. It also shows that Jefferson had a strong knowledge in political, legal and constitutional laws, literature along with math, language of Greek and French. He would often convert the measurements from our standard metric system to Europe’s standards and proved people wrong. Many times he would write in French, using books written by Mons. de Buffon when he talked about ature life of America. Homer, a Greek writer was looked up by Jefferson. Some parts from The Odyssey and Homer’s ideology often appeared in his notes and compared to his own ideology of the subjects. Notes of the state of Virginia contains very detailed and picture risque data of Virginia’s natural features which makes me think he had other sources to collect what he needed. Most of the numbers that he stated seemed very accurate and convincing, but some were not witnessed by him, because there were times that he said “he had heard” or “he was told”.
Geographic data that was given by the author also reflects that Virginia is a very important state since lots of its rivers and mountains are connected to other states and sometimes, they become greater in other regions. The author also talked about some of the other thirteen states, relating Virginia’s geographic connection. He also argued that animal life and plant life all degenerate in the New World by contrast with their state in the Old World. The animals were bigger, the plants were healthier and the soil was very fertile.
This argument was a direct refutation imposed by the French naturalist Buffon in his book Histoire Naturelle. Buffon was possibly the most known and influential natural historian in Jefferson’s time. Buffon insisted that New world animals were smaller than Old world animals and domestic animals brought to America were diminished in size and quality from their European ancestors. Buffon also claimed that climates and nature of New world wasn’t suitable for people. Thomas Jefferson, however strongly opposed to Buffon with scientific basis and presenting the large variety of American species.
In one query he also defends the culture of the Native American against Buffon and by doing these, he didn’t only represent and defend the state of Virginia but his country, America and its people Some of Jefferson’s responses to queries had hidden messages. For example, information about seaports and river have a commercial message that America was a country with a future worth investing in. Introducing variety of crops they were growing were to show how good the American economy was. Laws and constitution queries indicated how well the New world was organized and how far the country came with its civilization.
Largely, some were to create a confidence in the country’s future that would encourage financial and military support from European countries. In a couple queries, Jefferson strongly showed his hospitality thoughts towards to the slavery and wanted Blacks to be deported back to their country which I thought there would be another reason why he was against the slavery other than social and ethical issues. He remarked relative characteristics of the black, native Indian, and white populations in Virginia.
While Jefferson believed the native Indian and white populations to be intellectually comparable and encouraged and supported mixing of Native Indian and white blood, he found blacks to be inferior to whites in the endowments of both body and mind generically. According to his notes, Jefferson believed slavery is demoralizing to both White and Black society and man is an “imitative animal”. His expression towards to Black and slavery made me think that he wasn’t just against the slavery. He was also against down-grading white’s superior blood by mixing it with blacks by any chance.
Another idea that he proposed and I’m very agreed to is the separation of church and state. Jefferson felt pity for Quaker and he proposed that they shouldn’t repeat the history of what they left Old World for. He thought that freedom of religion is also important since for many people the purpose of immigrating into New world was to seek the liberty. Every Query, it starts with data and explanation of a subject, but eventually it turns into an argument by Thomas Jefferson’s ideological thoughts to appeal, defend and develop New World.
Through the book, Notes on the state of Virginia I learn that what I don’t appreciate and I don’t realize in this world had come a long way with peoples’ effort. I’m not living in the same era and not the same situation as Jefferson was. It might be a little hard for me to have the same sympathy that he had, but how he approached his audience with compilation of date and argument with his knowledge was very appealing and easy to understand late 18th century’s New World. I think this is a very reliable, ruefulness and credible source, especially to American.