John Wilkes

(1727—1797) politician

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British journalist and politician. Wilkes was hailed in both Britain and America as a champion of liberty. In 1763 in issue 45 of his paper the North Briton he attacked George III's ministers and by implication the king himself, but when arrested for seditious libel he claimed the privileges of a Member of Parliament to contest the legality of his arrest, which had been made under a general warrant, not specifying him by name. The government then managed to expel him from Parliament on grounds of obscenity, particularly for the publication of his Essay on Woman, an obscene spoof on Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, and Wilkes fled to France in 1764. He returned in 1768 to fight the general election and to serve a 22‐month sentence for his earlier offences. Controversy raged when Parliament refused to let him take his seat, even though he was elected Member of Parliament for Middlesex on four consecutive occasions. He was at last allowed back into Parliament in 1774 and sat for Middlesex until 1790. He supported the parliamentary reform movement and declared an interest in and sympathy for the American cause. All this time he enjoyed the support of the populace and a mob could always be called out to rally to his cause. In 1780, after some hesitation, he supported the action being taken to suppress the Gordon riots and he was considered to have become respectable when he opposed the French Revolution.

Subjects: History.

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