The Middlesex Election



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The Middlesex Election – 1767-1768

John WilkesAlthough Wilkes foresaw that necessity was driving him back to England he would have returned home voluntarily in any case.  With his usual political sagacity he had perceived how events were shaping themselves in his favour, and he was prepared to submit himself to whatever punishment his persecutors might dare to inflict.  One thing only – a seat in Parliament – was needful for his salvation, necessary both as a permanent protection against his creditors and a means of conducting his mission to the people.  Under the provisions of the Septennial Act a general election was due in the spring, and the demagogue began to look for a constituency that might be relied upon to elect him as its member. 

In this respect there was much difference of opinion among his friends.  With characteristic vanity his own inclinations favoured the City of London, and as early as July he was discussing the matter with Arthur Beardmore.  Most of his advisers laughed at the idea, but a month later, in spite of their ridicule, he allowed the Public Advertiser to print a paragraph, announcing on “good authority” that his candidature was certain.  It was, suggested by Cotes that he should stand for Westminster, since John Churchill, the apothecary, a brother of the poet, had enormous influence with the electors, and was one of the most virulent of Wilkites.  The faithful Heaton, with fraternal admiration, believed that “half of the counties or boroughs” might be invaded successfully.  Others suggested that Lord Temple should nominate the patriot for “some borough of his own.”  Unfortunately Wilkes and his patron were not at this moment on the best of terms.  The earl had been annoyed by some references to himself in the Grafton philippic, and became still more incensed by the publication of the letter written to him by Wilkes five years previously, in which the Bagshot duel was so wittily described.  For it nearly involved him in a battle too, Lord Talbot suspecting that he had sent the letter to the newspapers, but the culprit was the demagogue himself, who was vain of this particular composition, although with many evasions and no little mendacity he sought to shift the blame upon another.  Sometimes, when it seemed necessary in the sacred cause of “Wilkes and Liberty,” he did not scruple to tell a lie.

Fearing that he would be imprisoned for debt the exile hastened his departure from Paris, leaving with his daughter for Calais on the 22nd of November.  Crossing the Channel on the 3rd of December, he hastened to London, but having consulted with his friends, he departed to Harwich in a few days.  Sailing to the Hague on the 10th of the month, he determined to wait in Flanders until the eve of a dissolution of Parliament.  Finding that he was not safe, however, from his French creditors even here, he hurried on to Leyden and entered himself once more as a student of the university, thus securing immunity from arrest.

Further Reading and External Links

John Wilkes on Google Books

John Wilkes on Wikipedia

John Wilkes on Spartacus Educational