NELSON, Thomas - BACON, Nathaniel, & John Selden.

An Historical and Political Discourse of the Laws and Government of England,

from the First Times to the End of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. With a Vindication of the Antient Way of Parliaments in England. Collected from some Manuscript Notes of John Selden, Esq; by Nathaniel Bacon, of Grays-Inn, Esq. The Fifth Edition: Corrected and improved by a gentleman of the Middle-Temple.

London: printed for D. Browne, and A. Millar, 1760 Stock Code: 139669
Reserve Ask us a question

The copy of a signatory of the Declaration of Independence

The copy of the American Founding Father and signatory of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Nelson Junior (1738-1789), with his ownership signature to the front free endpaper; Nelson later struck through the signature (still wholly legible) and added a presentation note to his son William Nelson (1763-1803), thus reading "Tho.s Nelson jr. To Wm Nelson jr".

The book was published in 1760, when Thomas was in England studying at Cambridge University. The book does not seem to have been actively imported into America by the publisher or by booksellers: no copy is listed in William Hamilton Bryson's Census of Law Books in Colonial Virginia (University of Press, 1978), or in Herbert A. Johnson's Imported Eighteenth-Century Law Treatises in American Libraries 1700-1799 (University of Tennessee Press, 1978). This suggests that Thomas acquired the book while in England, prior to returning to Virginia the following year; his signature probably dates from this time, with the strike-through and latter presentation added many years later. He named his son William after his own father, the onetime governor of Virginia, hence the "Wm Nelson Jr" of his inscription.

Thomas Nelson played a significant role in numerous critical situations prior to and during the Revolution. He returned to Virginia from England in 1761, already elected by York County to the House of Burgesses. He was appointed a delegate to the first Virginia Revolutionary Convention in 1774, in which Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress were chosen. From 1775 to 1777 he represented Virginia in the Continental Congress, in which capacity he signed the Declaration of Independence. He was among the 13 committee members appointed to draft the Articles of Confederation. He succeeded Thomas Jefferson as governor of Virginia in 1781, and served as a commander of Virginian forces, taking part in the Siege of Yorktown, allegedly urging Washington to fire upon his own home, where Charles Cornwallis had his headquarters. Illness prevented further service in the coming years, but he was widely eulogized by his countrymen upon his death in 1789.

Any book with the ownership signature of a signatory to the Declaration of Independence is desirable, but this particular title is especially compelling, being a major defence of British parliamentarianism against the power of the King, and a significant exposition of English republican theory, namely that the English constitution was originally based on a form of social contract whereby any ruler who violates this contract may be deposed. The book was first published during the British Civil War, compiled by Nathaniel Bacon based on notes by John Selden. "Published in 1647 to justify the Long Parliament's war against Charles I, with a continuation appearing in 1651, the work has been referred to as 'the English Francogallia' (Burgess, 96). Contemporaries of various political leanings would have agreed. Indeed, according to Bacon's co-religionist and fellow anti-royalist Richard Baxter, An Historical Discourse was one of the four most influential tracts written in support of the parliamentarian cause... But the reach of Bacon's treatise extended far beyond the civil wars and interregnum. Continually republished well into the eighteenth century, when it won the praise of the elder William Pitt, An Historical Discourse was secretly reprinted in 1672, in 1682 at the time of the exclusion crisis, in 1689 at the revolution, again in 1739, and by 1750 in a fifth edition. So fearful were the royalists of Bacon's message that Charles II's government attempted to suppress it... Charles II and his advisers were right to be scared, for Bacon's An Historical Discourse argued with unrelenting force an anti-royalist ideology of enormous persuasive power" (ODNB). Around the period of this edition's publication, Andrew Millar was publishing various 17th-century radical and republican works, some of which were sponsored by the radical Whig republican Thomas Hollis with the aim of disseminating and fostering 17th-century ideas of English liberty. Although the exact effect on Nelson of reading the book cannot be known, he would certainly come to share its anti-royalist sentiments, and would help to implement the same republican ideas in America.

Confused? Read our glossary


Quarto (292 x 231 mm). Contemporary calf, brown calf label.


Joints and extremities expertly repaired, contents with some marginal worming not affecting text, front endpapers and first few leaves with some old fungal damage and staining (not affecting signature), light browning to contents. A good copy.


With the exception of framed items*, Peter Harrington offers free delivery on all UK orders of rare books, maps and prints placed through this website. Delivery to USA and the rest of the world is similarly free for orders over £200.

View Full Delivery Details



Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.


Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 0220

ABA Antiquarian Bookseller Association ILAB International League of Antiquarian Booksellers LAPADA The Association of Art and Anatique Dealers PBFA Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association

Our Guarantee Page

Ask us a question


Contact us with details of the book you are interested in or selling and we will contact you

Sell Old Books Help me find a book