Why did Jefferson write so much about the trees, plants, and animals of Virginia in query 6 of Notes on the State of Virginia?
Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia in large part to refute several theories popular among European intellectuals. The first, and the most applicable to this question, was a theory posited by the French naturalist Comte de Buffon that the "inferior climate" in the New World had caused animals to degenerate. He predicted, therefore, that there would be no megafauna as large as in Europe. Many of his descriptions of plants, animals, and fossils found in Virginia were his evidence to the contrary. While stationed in France, he had a number of elk and bison skulls, among other large animals, brought to France to further disprove Buffon's thesis. Buffon also disparaged the abilities, in fact the very humanity, of Native Americans. Jefferson responded that Native Americans were the equals of white men, and that they lacked only culture and civilization. These statements can be contrasted with his views on African-Americans, who he characterized as essentially inferior, in the same book.