Volume 2 of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson covers the period from January 1777 to June 1779, when Jefferson became the second governor of the State of Virginia. He had retired from Congress and had declined a diplomatic appointment to France with the deliberate purpose of remolding the legal structure of Virginia.
Jefferson became a veritable legislative drafting bureau. He drew, or had a hand in, bills for preventing the importation of slaves, for ratifying the Articles of Confederation, for inoculation against smallpox, for establishing a land office and settling the titles of unpatented lands, etc. In addition, he was the principal figure in the critical struggle between the two houses of the legislature on the question of the Senate’s right to alter money bills.
During this entire period Jefferson was also at work on the grand project, instigated by himself and known as the Revisal of the Laws. The result was a Report containing 126 bills, submitted in June 1779 and never before included with any degree of completeness in an edition of Jefferson’s writings. Indeed, the Revisal has hitherto been only very imperfectly known and studied, though it contains such monuments of Jeffersonian thought as the Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments, the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, and the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. Concerning the last of these—a major charter of American liberties—new light on both its history and its text is provided in this volume.
Apart from lawmaking, the volume contains records of Jefferson’s activities as county lieutenant, concerned with local defense and the treatment of British sympathizers; as an amateur of science, corresponding with Rittenhouse and other learned men in Europe and America; as a protector and friend of the German officers of Burgoyne’s army interned at Charlottesville; as a farmer and gardener; as a book collector. Here, too, appear the first letters exchanged between Jefferson and John Adams—the beginnings of an incomparable correspondence.