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Notes on the State of Virginia, written in the year 1781, somewhat corrected and enlarged in the winter of 1782, for the use of a Foreigner of distinction, in answer to certain queries proposed by him: [Bound with] Draught of a Fundamental Constitution for the Commonwealth of Virginia


Thomas Jefferson
Philippe-Denis Pierres

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Observations sur la Virginie, par M. J***. Traduites de l'Anglois translation has paratext


200 copies were published privately "for the author". Jefferson's descriptive essays on his home state of Virginia are "a classic statement about the promise and the perils of the American experiment" and "the first attempt by an American to describe comprehensively the natural history, geography, inhabitants, and political structure of a part of North America in a single, concise work" (Frank Shuffleton, Introduction to Notes).

Jefferson began this work in the spring of 1781 in response to questions from the Marquis de Barbé Marbois, Secretary of the French Legation in Philadelphia. Marbois's queries were forwarded to the outgoing governor, Jefferson. By December, he forwarded Marbois a draft, but cautioned that it was "very imperfect" (Papers, 6:142). Over the next two years, Jefferson continued expanding the notes and sent manuscript copies to various friends for comments. Many in his circle requested copies, so Jefferson eventually decided to produce a private edition, but before he could do so he embarked to Paris to take up his post as the U.S. Minister to France.

From Paris, in May 1785, he announced to James Madison that the printers "yesterday finished printing my notes. I had 200 copies printed, but do not put them out of my own hands, except two or three copies here, and two which I shall send to America, to yourself and Col. Monroe..." (Papers, 8:147).

Taking advantage of low printing costs in Paris, Jefferson published three more tracts, including the Constitution of Virginia; the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and his ideas on currency, some of which were bound in with copies of the Notes. The Virginia Constitution was the first state constitution to be created, drafted in May 1776 as the state declared independence from Great Britain. Primarily the work of John Mason and James Madison, the Virginia Constitution created a bicameral legislature, an Executive of a Governor and a Council of State, and inferior and superior courts. The right to vote was closely restricted to men over twenty-one of significant wealth.

A corrected and expanded London edition published by Stockdale in 1787 became the official model for all subsequent editions.