In The House


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IN THE HOUSE – 1774 – 1782

Houses of Parliament[1774]-[1782] WITH the close of [1774] the tide in the affairs of John Wilkes had reached its flood.  After a ceaseless struggle of more than five years his faithful followers had succeeded in giving him a place in the House of Commons…

…When Wilkes took his seat in the new House of Commons on the 2nd of December, the Opposition regarded him with little more favour than the ministry.  Like all who have repudiated the trammels of party discipline, he had committed a political offence almost as heinous and unforgivable as one who has deserted to the other side.  The recent dispute with Edmund Burke over the candidature for Westminster had increased the mistrust of the Rockingham faction.  With the exception of Sir George Savile none of the prominent Whig leaders would have any dealings with him.  In the Upper House there was no one but his fellow symposiast, “the wicked” Lord Lyttelton, who could be relied upon to give him assistance.  Despite their antagonism in city affairs Lord Shelburne was the only statesman with whose policy he was in sympathy, but the enmity of Oliver and Townsend made an alliance impossible.  So he stood alone with his little band of disciples, bearing the ominous badge of independence like “hay upon his horns,” and every party was on its guard against him.

Undoubtedly his programme was intolerable to the most progressive Whig.  He vociferated still that “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”  Among his followers the famous resolutions promulgated by the Supporters of the Bill of Rights three years before continued to be the test for all parliamentary candidates, who were required to sign a declaration, promising to support a drastic reform bill and other revolutionary measures.  Not only were the terms of the required pledge abhorrent to official Whiggism, but the principle itself was regarded with antipathy in the belief that it would reduce the representatives of the people to the position of delegates.  Yet the great families who cherished the dogmas of “the glorious revolution” failed to realise that their views were as retrogressive as those of the Wilkites were extreme, and that, while the spirit of the age demanded that the Member of Parliament should become more regardful of his constituents, the relations between them might be modified in harmony with the theory of the constitution. To Wilkes is due the credit (if such it is) of being the first to make the relationship between the representative and the electors a more intimate one.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 17 In The House


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.

John Wilkes on Google Books