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Born Oct. 17, 1727, in London; died there Dec. 26,1797. British political figure and journalist.
In 1757, Wilkes was elected to Parliament, where he led a group of bourgeois radicals opposed to the policies of the government. The country at the time was experiencing a series of mass demonstrations by factory workers and artisans who had been impoverished by the industrial revolution. The social turmoil split both the Whigs and the Tories into various opposing factions. In 1762, Wilkes founded a newspaper, the North Briton, in which he printed articles assailing the government; these led to his arrest in 1763. Acquitted of the charges against him in 1769, Wilkes reentered public life that same year as an alderman; in 1774 he was returned to Parliament and elected lord mayor of London. In 1776, Wilkes added to his popularity by opposing war with the North American colonies and by advocating a bill for parliamentary reform. But in 1780 he lost much of that popularity by ordering that a demonstration by London’s poor be quelled by force.