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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

Wilkes appeared before the Commons


[Sidenote:

1769--Wilkes's expulsion from the Commons]

The Government hoped that the longer Wilkes lay in prison, the more chance there was that the enthusiasm for him would abate. But in this hope the Government were disappointed. Even in the ranks of the ministers the King was not able to find unswerving agreement to his demands for Wilkes's expulsion from Parliament. Outside Parliament the agitation was not only undiminished, but was even on the increase. This was shown conclusively by a fresh event in connection with Middlesex. Cooke, who was the colleague of Wilkes in the representation of the county, died. Serjeant Glynn, who had made himself conspicuous as the champion of Wilkes and the advocate of the popular cause, came forward to contest the vacant seat, and carried the constituency in spite of the most determined efforts on the part of the royal faction to defeat him. There were more riots, more deaths on the popular side, more trials, more convictions for murder and more pardons of the condemned men. The agitation which had been burning at a steady heat blazed up into a flame. Wilkes made every use of the opportunity. He had succeeded in getting a copy of the letter which Lord Weymouth had sent to the magistrates, the letter in which Lord Weymouth had practically urged the magistrates to fire upon the people. Wilkes immediately sent it to the _St. James's Chronicle_, a tri-weekly independent Whig journal which had been started in 1760.

The _St. James's Chronicle_ printed the letter, and Wilkes's own letter accompanying it, in which he accused the Ministry of having planned and determined upon the "horrid massacre of St. George's Fields." The letter, said Wilkes, "shows how long a hellish project can be brooded over by some infernal {125} spirits without one moment's remorse." It may be admitted that if the language of Wilkes's enemies in the two Houses was strong even to ruffianism, Wilkes could and did give them as good as he got in the way of invective and vituperation.

The Government, goaded into fury by this daring provocation, resolved to make an example of the offender. Lord Barrington brought the letter formally before the House of Commons. The House of Commons immediately voted it a libel, and summoned Wilkes from his prison to the bar of the House. On February 3, 1769, Wilkes appeared before the Commons. With perfect composure he admitted the authorship of the letter to the _St. James's Chronicle_, and, with an audacity that exasperated the House, he proclaimed his regret that he had not expressed himself upon the subject in stronger terms, and added that he should certainly do so whenever a similar occasion should present itself. "Whenever," he said, "a Secretary of State shall dare to write so bloody a scroll, I will through life dare to write such prefatory remarks, as well as to make my appeal to the nation on the occasion." Wilkes found champions in the House of Commons. Burke, Beckford, and many others either defended Wilkes or urged that the matter was not for the House of Commons, but for the law courts to deal with. In the division the Government was triumphant by a majority of 219 against 137, and Wilkes was formally expelled from the House of Commons on the ground, not merely of his comments on the letter of Lord Weymouth, but on account of the Number Forty-five of the _North Briton_ and the "Essay on Woman."


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