Notes on the State of Virginia

The Thomas Jefferson Papers:  An Electronic Archive

 JeffersonNotes on the State of Virginia

Scholars at the Massachusetts Historical Society own a remarkable document--the handwritten manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia that was loaned to a printer upon it's first publication. The Historical Society has made the document available for all to see in digital format in a way that the reader can directly interact with the manuscript. 

Not only can you read Notes in Thomas Jefferson's own hand, you can see what editing and corrections he made.  One can browse and search the manuscript, jump from chapter to chapter, or read it straight through.There is also the option of reading the changes that were made before the first publication--including the opportunity to see passages that have been hidden for more than two centuries.  There is also a function to make your own page.

Notes was Jefferson's only full-length book. It was written in order to answer questions posed to Jefferson about Virginia by Francois Barbe-Marbois, who was at the time the Secretary of the French Legation in Philadelphia.  In Notes Jefferson writes about his opinions regarding the natural AppleOrchardMountainfeatures of Virginia, the government, the native peoples, the economy and slavery.  Notes is famously the source of such quotes as: "There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and the degrading sub-missions on the other...Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, and exchange of situation is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!"

The Massachusetts Historical Society owns this one and only whole manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia because when Jefferson was in Paris in 1758 representing the United States as a diplomat he paid to have 200 copies printed for private distribution. Prior to that publication, he reworked an earlier version of his manuscript by using sealing wax to attach corrections and changes written on small additional pieces of paper. These changes show how Jefferson's ideas changed as he wrote.