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Can someone explain the importance of Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of...

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janetbarnes | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Honors

Posted July 15, 2009 at 11:31 AM via web

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Can someone explain the importance of Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia"?

Why is this such an important piece of american literature?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 15, 2009 at 8:03 PM (Answer #1)

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Jefferson's work was fairly significant for several reasons.  The first was that it was a detailed and thorough analysis of Jefferson's beloved Virginia.  There is a data collection technique evidenced throughout the work.  Almost scientific in its precision, Jefferson's "Notes" displays both his wide acumen about his state, but also that his state has rendered so much to be catalogued.  Through both the data collection and the work itself, the premise that America was "undeveloped" land was refuted.  On a larger level, the political implications of the work are also extremely significant.  Desiring to “cultivate the peace and friendship of every nation,” he wished “to throw open the door of commerce to all.” With conviction in peaceful progress, he advocated minimum military or naval forces on two grounds: American financial resources could not maintain a force to stand against that of a European power without bankrupting the country; and the expenditure of such funds would be more beneficially applied to the improving of the arts and handicrafts of America.  We can also see an outlining and justification of Republican policies that call for a decrease in government, an emphasis on farming/ agriculture, and the clear demarcation between religious belief and political institutions, three elements that will seek to define both Jefferson and America in the 19th century.  Finally, the work is significant because Jefferson attempts to "hold the wolf" of slavery.  In the work he argues against slavery on both republican and moral grounds.  However, he concedes that he feels there are "natural" differences between the races.  Such a flawed belief system highlights America's challenge with relations of race and the institution of slavery, elements that will pervade American History and thought.

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