John Hatsell’s work, the Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons, was Jefferson’s most important source when he was researching rules of conduct and political processes for his own manual. Jefferson referenced Hatsell by name—but ignored the title of the work—which indicated that he believed that Hatsell’s work was well-known enough on its own for his audience to understand the reference.[1]

John Hatsell (1733-1820) was the Clerk of the House of Commons from 1768 until 1820.[2] He was a well-known figure during his day, appearing in other literature from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Indeed, he was reported to be a “sagacious and experienced clerk of the House of Commons.”[3] Even though Jefferson sought to update his work, Hatsell’s influence was important and palpable. His books—which went through more than four editions—would have been widely circulated as well.

During his tenure as Clerk of the House of Commons, Hatsell authored at least two books that focused upon parliamentary rules and structure: A Collection of Cases of Privilege of Parliament (1776) and Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons (1781; second edition,1785–96; third edition,1796; fourth edition with additions by Charles Abbot, 1818).

Peruse the pages of Hatsell’s famous manual below to gain familiarity with the type of conduct described in this seminal work. Digital copy courtesy of on the Internet Archive.


[1] Thomas Jefferson, A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, first edition 1801 (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1993), introduction.

[2] “John Hatsell.” (government website).

[3] Wilberforce, Robert Isaac and Samuel Wilberforce. 1838. The Life of William Wilberforce by His Sons, Volume III: in five volumes. London: John Murray [John Childs]. Digitized by Google books on April 15, 2009. Accessed March 29, 2016.