The Second Parliamentary War – 1768-1769
EVER since the Middlesex election there had been rumours that Wilkes would be expelled from Parliament, but the Government observed the greatest secrecy with regard to its plans. Although George the Third, exasperated by the persistency with which his enemy tried to extenuate “No. 45,” had declared that “the expulsion of Mr. Wilkes appears to be very essential and must be effected,” there was much difference of opinion among the ministers. Most of the Cabinet were disposed to oblige the king, but Camden was wholly averse to such a drastic measure, deeming it more politic to let matters rest where they were. Eventually the will of the great lawyer prevailed. Grafton, a political dilettante grown weary of his hobby, was glad to procrastinate, having no inclination to incite the Wilkites to begin window smashing once more.
The Premier was bearing a heavy weight of unpopularity already. Accepting office originally because his adherence was necessary in order that Pitt might come into power, he had been robbed by illness of the services of his colleague for many months, besides sharing the odium which the Great Commoner had incurred through the acceptance of a peerage.
While the mob hated him because he had not obtained a pardon for Wilkes, the upper classes were indignant at his want of firmness during the riots. For the poverty and distress that had increased so much in recent years his Government was held responsible. With the American colonists, too, it was becoming more detested every day owing to the imposition of new import duties. In the Cabinet, since Chatham had ceased to preside over its councils, there was little unanimity. A heterogeneous medley of Whig and Tory, they were bound together merely by love of place, which, though possibly one of the strongest of political bonds, is apt to be productive of fierce jealousies. Naturally Grafton, who had never regarded Wilkes as a grievous sinner, was loath to increase his own embarrassments by trying to deprive the demagogue of his seat. So the summer passed by, and the Government took no steps to gratify the king. Instead, a sort of tacit compact seems to have been arranged, the ministers being content to allow Wilkes to remain a member of Parliament as long as he submitted to his punishment quietly.
Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907
Chapter 13 The Second Parliamentary War
Further Reading and External Links
The National Archives – The second half of the 18th century saw a flowering of ideas concerning popular rights. In the 1760s, many of these concern John Wilkes MP.
Remember John Wilkes
The radical, journalist and politician, John Wilkes, is remembered by a statue on Fetter Lane in the City of London.