Skip to main content

John Wilkes - Liberty & Parliament

John Wilkes was a radical MP and journalist whose activities caused political crises in the 1760's. He was renowned in 18th century political circles as a  rake and hedonist. Yet despite this his actions would lead to legal and parliamentary reform.

Wilkes and Liberty

Wilkes was born in London in 1725 and elected as MP for Aylesbury in 1757. In 1763 Wilkes published a satirical pamphlet called 'The North Briton'. His attacks on the  Government in that publication, particularly in the 45th edition,  led to his arrest under a general warrant. In January 1764 Wilkes was expelled from the House of Commons but the concern aroused by the general warrants affair led to them being no longer used for the arrest of persons.

Wilkes and Parliament

Wilkes returned to London in 1768 and was elected as MP  for Middlesex at the General Election. In 1769 he was expelled from the House of Commons on grounds of  seditious and obscene libels.  Despite the fact that Wilkes was re-elected at three by-elections the Commons overturned the results. Eventually Wilkes was elected for Middlesex in 1774 and represented the county until 1790. Whilst in Parliament Wilkes made the first ever motion for Parliamentary reform.

Wilkes' activities generated significant interest by newspapers in Parliament's proceedings at a time when the  reporting of debates was not allowed. In 1771 Wilkes was able to use his influence in the City of London to force the Government to relax the restrictions, thereby establishing the freedom of the press to report Parliament. 


Related Information

Find out more about the Parliamentary Archives