Wilkes, John

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Wilkes, John,

1727–97, English politician and journalist. He studied at the Univ. of Leiden, returned to England in 1746, and purchased (1757) a seat in Parliament. Backed by Earl TempleTemple, Richard Grenville-Temple, Earl,
1711–79, British statesman; elder brother of George Grenville and brother-in-law of William Pitt, 1st earl of Chatham. He succeeded to his mother's peerage in 1752.
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, Wilkes founded (1762) a periodical, the North Briton, in which he made outspoken attacks on George IIIGeorge III,
1738–1820, king of Great Britain and Ireland (1760–1820); son of Frederick Louis, prince of Wales, and grandson of George II, whom he succeeded. He was also elector (and later king) of Hanover, but he never visited it.
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 and his ministers. In the famous issue No. 45 (1763), Wilkes went so far as to criticize the speech from the throne. He was immediately arrested on the basis of a general warrant (one that did not specify who was to be arrested), but his arrest was adjudged a breach of parliamentary privilege by Chief Justice Charles PrattPratt, Charles, 1st Earl Camden,
1714–94, British jurist. Appointed (1761) chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, he earned wide popularity as a result of his ruling in Entick v.
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, who later ruled also that general warrants were illegal. The government then secured Wilkes's expulsion from Parliament on the grounds of seditious libel and obscenity (Wilkes was notoriously dissolute and the author of an obscene parody of Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, which was used against him).

Wilkes fled (1764) to Paris and was convicted of seditious libel in his absence. He returned in 1768 and was repeatedly elected to Parliament from Middlesex, but each time he was denied his seat by the king's party. The issue, in the eyes of the angry populace, became a case of royal manipulation of parliamentary privilege against Wilkes to restrain the people's right to elect their own representatives. Wilkes was supported by Edmund BurkeBurke, Edmund,
1729–97, British political writer and statesman, b. Dublin, Ireland. Early Writings

After graduating (1748) from Trinity College, Dublin, he began the study of law in London but abandoned it to devote himself to writing.
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 and the unknown writer JuniusJunius,
English political author, known only by the signature Junius, which he signed to various letters written to the London Public Advertiser from Jan., 1769, to Jan., 1772, attacking George III and his ministers.
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, but he was not seated. After 22 months in prison for his libel conviction, he was elected sheriff of London (1771) and lord mayor (1774). In 1774 he was again elected and this time allowed to take his seat in Parliament, where he championed the liberties of the American colonies and fought for parliamentary reform. He lost popular favor for his vigorous action as chamberlain of London in suppressing the Gordon riots (1780). Although a demagogue, Wilkes was a champion of freedom of the press and the rights of the electorate.


See biographies by O. A. Sherrard (1930, repr. 1972), C. P. Chenevix Trench (1962), L. Kronenberger (1974), A. H. Cash (2006), and J. Sainsbury (2006); I. R. Christie, Wilkes, Wyvill and Reform (1962); G. F. E. Rudé, Wilkes and Liberty (1962).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Wilkes, John


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.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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