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Notes on the State of Virginia (Penguin Classics): Annotated Edition


A request in 1780 by the French legation to the United States to learn more about the newly formed thirteen states of America stimulated in Jefferson, as he later described it, a “mysterious obligation for making me much better acquainted with my own country than I ever was before.” Written during his first term as governor of Virginia, Notes on the State of Virginia is at once a scientific discourse, an attempt to define America, and an examination of the idea of freedom. With the same genius and clear, flexible prose style that informs the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson chronicles Virginia’s natural, social, and political history. In his introduction to this annotated edition, which discusses the work’s origins and composition, Frank Shuffelton focuses particularly on Jefferson’s response to contemporary scientific writings on “New World degeneracy, ” his differing treatment of blacks and Native Americans, and his influential role in creating a mythicized American self-image.