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"All the old reformers fought hard for education—the education of the people at the expense of the people.  The fight was hopeless till the franchise was extended.  "Education for all," I wrote myself in a little pamphlet entitled "An Argument for Complete Suffrage," printed at Manchester in 1860, "is an inevitable consequence of the enfranchisement of all."  And I was right.  The extension of the suffrage was very soon followed by the multiplication of schools."



Chartist, Republican, supporter of women's suffrage
and Editor of the
Newcastle Weekly Chronicle.

Other than his newspaper articles and pamphlets — not without influence in their time — Adams' importance rests on two books, particularly on the second of these, his autobiography.  In "Memoirs of a Social Atom" (1903), Adams leaves to posterity a very readable and informative account of the lives of the working class during the early and central decades of the Victorian era together with his perspective on the radical personalities — both British and European — who were then active.  "Our American Cousins" is a now dated but nevertheless interesting record of his impressions of the U.S.A. gained during a visit there in 1882. 

Chartist, Republican, supporter of women's suffrage, and long-time distinguished Editor of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, WILLIAM EDWIN ADAMS was born at Cheltenham, Gloucester, on 11 February, 1832 to poor, working-class parents.   In common with most other of the authors and poets whose literary outputs are republished on this website, Adams was mostly self-educated.  What schooling he received was sporadic, Sunday School* contributing to what little formal education could be had from 'dame schools' and similar institutions.  He learned to read and write, but little else—according to Adams, "It was not much of an education, but it sufficed. It supplied me at any rate with the tools of knowledge."  Later in life Adams attended Working Men's Colleges in Manchester and in London.

    Adams' first contact with the newspaper industry was at the age of fourteen, when he was apprenticed to the proprietor of the Cheltenham Journal.  During his seven years apprenticeship he became involved in the radical politics of the age—an interest that ran in his family—both attending and participating actively in Chartist meetings, while doing what he could to improve his education by reading, and attending lectures and debates.

In 1854, Adams, by now a journeyman printer, removed to "Brantwood", on Lake Coniston (later the home of Gerald Massey and John Ruskin), to assist W. J. Linton in the production of his radical publication, The English Republic.  About this episode Linton had the following to say, although he doesn't refer to his three "zealous and efficient helpers" by name—Thomas Hailing and James Glover being the other two—presumably on account of their not being "among the candidates for notoriety"....

"...the Republic was issued in four-page weekly tracts, bound together for monthly parts, still printed at Leeds.  In the spring of 1852 I removed to Brantwood, and in 1854 resumed the monthly issue, by then having printing press and types, and registering myself as a printer, without which my printing material was liable to seizure and confiscation by the authorities.  At Brantwood I had the assistance of three young men from Cheltenham, who came across the country to offer themselves at my service, at any wage that I could afford them.  Two were printers, and the third was a gardener.  They were zealous and efficient helpers.  When, in April, 1855, I had to give up the endeavour (it had never reached a paying point, and of the few hundreds printed many were distributed freely in the hope of propagandism), my three men had to leave me: one went back to Cheltenham, his native place, resumed printing there, and established a printing office noteworthy for its excellent work; one found employment for a time in London, and has now for many years been the editor of the weekly edition of Mr. Cowen's Newcastle Chronicle; one returned to gardening and has been long in the employment of a gentleman in the neighbourhood of London: all fairly well doing, all to this day my attached and esteemed friends, none ever complaining of lost time at Brantwood.  Their names, not among the candidates for notoriety, are written on my heart."

W. J. Linton, "Memories," 1894.


    Following closure of the Republic, Adams eventually found his way to London, where he continued his involvement in radical politics, contributing articles to Charles Bradlaugh's National Reformer, and publishing pamphlets dealing with tyrannicide, suffrage (in response to the abortive reform bills of 1859  and 1860), and the American Civil War.  The first of these—"Tyrannicide: is it justifiable?" (1858)—stemmed from the attempted assassination of the French Emperor by the Italian, Felice Orsini, who believed that Napoleon III was the chief obstacle to Italian independence and the principal cause of the anti-liberal reaction throughout Europe.  In it, Adams argued strongly in Orsini's defence.  Due to the British connections of the plot and to pressure from the French government, the assassination attempt resulted in Lord Palmerston's government presenting the Conspiracy to Murder Bill and prosecuting Edward Truelove, the publisher of Adams' pamphlet—which had attracted considerable attention—on charges of seditious libel and incitement to assassinate the Emperor [1].  The Bill was defeated, Palmerston resigned and the prosecution of Truelove was eventually settled on what, to Truelove and Adams, were highly disagreeable terms that denied them 'their day in court' and a public airing of their views [2].  A sequel to Adams' "Tyrannicide" pamphlet, "Bonaparte's Challenge to Tyrannicides", was made ready for publication but had to be suppressed through changes in the law.  As Adams put it, "the very changes in the law which were defeated in 1858 were effected at a later date without anybody seeming to know much about it."  He went on to say "But an inexorable fate asserted itself at last.  Twelve years later the despot and usurper who had triumphed on the Boulevards disappeared in shame and ignominy amidst the blood and smoke of Sedan."

  In his pamphlet "An Argument for Complete Suffrage" (1860), Adams wrote: "On principle there can be only one claim of citizenship—Manhood.  And there is nothing exclusive in this—no sexual limitation" (Adams employs "man" in its original generic sense to refer to any human being).  He continues: "Society has no claim upon the allegiance of the voteless workman anymore than it has a claim upon the slave—can have no claim while his equal social rights are withheld."  In "The Slaveholder's War: an Argument for the North and the Negro" (1863), the longest pamphlet of the set, Adams refutes the claim put forward by the South that the causes of the American civil war are oppressive tariffs, and much of his text is a wide-ranging and closely argued indictment of slavery.

    The year 1862 found Adams with little work and suffering much hardship as a consequence.  It was at this time that he was invited to write a weekly article for the Newcastle Chronicle by its owner, the prominent politician and journalist Joseph Cowen, whose attention had been attracted by Adams' columns in the National Reformer.  This was to be the start of Adams' career in newspaper journalism proper.  While continuing to write for Bradlaugh's National Reformer under the pen-name of "Caractacus", he joined the editorial staff of the Newcastle Daily Chronicle, later becoming Editor of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle,
a position he was to hold with distinction for 36 years until he retired in 1900.

    Adams was a great admirer of the Italian patriot, philosopher and politician, Giuseppe Mazzini,  whom he regarded as "the greatest teacher since Christ."  He favoured a transatlantic alignment, and following a visit to the U.S.A. in 1882, published his impressions in "Our American Cousins", an account described by one critic as "the best and most unbiased account of the great republic ever penned by an Englishman." Adams concludes this interesting narrative thus: "
Certainly I shall not soon forget three things that came within my experience—the wonderful courtesy of the people, the utter absence of restraint or formality in connection with the institutions of the land, and, above all, the amazing energy and enterprise which Americans everywhere import into the varied affairs of life.  Nevertheless, I never returned to the old country with greater love and admiration for it than when I returned from that Greater Britain beyond the Atlantic."

    By the 1880s Adams was finding himself increasingly out of sympathy with emerging trends in socialism [3] and he gradually withdrew from personal political comment, although allowing space in the Chronicle for the dissemination of contemporary arguments that he did not favour.  But while laying down his political cudgels he cultivated other interests, such as his campaigns for free libraries and for parks for the people.  As 'Uncle Toby' he founded the 'Dicky Bird Club' for the protection of birds, membership of which approached a quarter of a million young people and rallies filled the Tyne Theatre.  Ruskin and Tennyson were among the celebrities who became honorary officers.

    Adams' later years were affected by poor health, to combat which he spent the English winters in the warmer climate of Madeira.  It was there that he wrote his autobiography, "Memoirs of a Social Atom" (originally published as a series of articles in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle during 1901-2, and published as a book in 1903), aptly described by the social historian John Saville as "much superior to the average autobiographical record, and much more useful to the historian than most."

    William Edwin Adams died at Funchal, Madeira, on 13 May 1906 and was buried there.  On the first anniversary of his death the marble bust pictured above was unveiled in Newcastle Public Library by the miners' leader, Thomas Burt MP.



*  S
ee John Critchley Prince, "The Sunday School".


The Times, Feb 23, 1858.


    At Bow-street police-court yesterday Mr. Bodkin, counsel for the treasury, attended to conduct a prosecution against Edward Truelove, a well dressed middle-aged man, described as a bookseller, who was charged with having "unlawfully written and published a false, malicious, scandalous, and seditious libel of and concerning His majesty the Emperor of the French, with the view to incite divers persons to assassinate his said Majesty.
    Mr. Bodkin appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Sleigh for the defence.
    The warrant having been read,
    Mr. Bodkin said,—Sir, this is a case in which the Government have thought proper to interfere. The defendant is the publisher of a pamphlet; whether he is the author or no I cannot say, but it purports to be written by "W. E. Adams," and is published by the defendant at 240, Strand, at the price of 1d.  It is of a character that I cannot but designate as atrocious.  It advocates the propriety of assassination, and in terms, not, indeed, direct, but not to be misunderstood, applies this doctrine to the Emperor of the French.  I do not wish to give any unnecessary publicity to so scandalous a publication, and as you have already seen the pamphlet I do not think it necessary to read it now.  Unless a remand is applied for on the other side I shall ask you to commit the prisoner for trial at once.
    The learned counsel then called—
    Frederick Williamson, who deposed,—I am a detective officer.  I went on Saturday to the house of the defendant, at 240 Strand, where he carries on business as a bookseller.  I saw him and purchased one of these pamphlets. (Witness here produced a pamphlet in eight pages, entitled "Tyrannicide: Is it Justifiable? by W. E. Adams.—Edward Truelove, 240, Strand.") They were 1d each.
    This being the case for the prosecution.
    Mr. Sleigh said,—Sir, I am only just instructed in this case, and have had no opportunity of reading the pamphlet through, but I cannot help saying that I look with very considerable alarm on such proceedings on the part of the Government.  We are told that this a libel on the Emperor of the French, advocating his assassination, but I am prepared to say—
    Mr. H
ENRY.—If you have not read it, Mr. Sleigh, had you better take time to do so?  I have no objection to wait while you read it.
    Mr. Sleigh.—I have not had time to read it all, but I have looked through every page, and I challenge any one to show me where the Emperor of the French is named.  I cannot help expressing alarm at this interference—a man's shop being entered and himself brought up in custody for a publication which does not contain any reflection on any human being.  I submit with considerable confidence that this is not a libel.  The learned counsel proceeded to say that if the magistrate thought it was a libel, then defendant ought to have time to prepare his defence.  In that case he should apply for a remand—defendant to be admitted to bail.  He observed that defendant was not asked by the officer whether he knew what the pamphlet contained.  This was different from the case of Peltier, which was a personal libel.
    Mr. H
ENRY.—So is this.  There is no doubt about it.
    Mr. Bodkin.—It is not necessary that the name should be so mentioned.
    Mr. H
ENRY.—There is internal evidence as clear as possible showing to whom it alludes.
    Mr. Bodkin.—To my friend's application for time I shall not object, nor to the admission of defendant to bail in the usual amounts; but I must ask my friend to do the Government the justice to remember that if it was their design to be harsh they might have indicted the defendant at once.
    Mr. H
ENRY.—That was the course adopted in Peltier's case.
    Mr. Bodkin.—It is the usual course; but as constitutional jealousy of that mode of proceeding has arisen it was thought right to adopt the course which has been taken, in order that if there was anything to be preferred in defendant's favour he might have a full opportunity of advancing it.
    Mr. Sleight could not adopt the suggestion that Government has acted with leniency in the matter.  They might have taken out a summons instead of a warrant.
    Mr. Bodkin.—We are going to have a new Government, but I hope that no Government will know its duty so ill as to take that course in such a case.
    Defendant was then remanded, being admitted to bail in the two sureties of £40 and his own recognizance for £100.
    Mr. Sleight asked his worship to fix a lower amount of bail—£20, for instance—as defendant was but a humble tradesman; but
    Mr. H
ENRY declined, and in the course of an hour bail to the amount fixed was provided, and defendant was set at liberty.


The Times, June 23, 1858.

(Sittings at Nisi Prius, before Lord C
Special Juries


    The Attorney-General, Mr. Macaulay, Q.C., Mr. Welsby, Mr. Bodkin, and Mr. J. Clerk, appeared for the Crown; and Edwin James, Q.C., Mr. J. Simon, Mr. Hawkins, and Mr. Sleigh for the defendant.
    This was an indictment found at the Central Criminal Court, and removed to this court by certiorari, which charged the defendant, Edward Truelove, a bookseller, at No.210 in the Strand, with the publication of a libel on His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the French, and attempting to justify the crime of assassination.
    When the case was called on only nine of the special jurymen answered to their names.
    The A
TTORNEY-GENERAL, on the part of the Crown, prayed stales and, when the jurymen were sworn, rose and said,—May it please your Lordship, and gentlemen of the jury, I rejoice that I have to announce to you that you will not be called upon to try this indictment.  It is a prosecution instituted by the Attorney-General of the late Government, by reason of the publication of a pamphlet containing certain passages tending, as it was thought, to incite evil-minded men to the crime of assassination and murder.  Gentlemen, when I succeeded to the office which I have the honour to hold I felt it to be my duty to adopt the act of my predecessor (the late Attorney-General), and to carry on this prosecution.  I felt it my duty, by submitting this case to a jury of Englishmen, to endeavour to prove that the law of England, which you sit here to assist in administering, and the people of England, of whom you form a part, and whom you represent, will never tolerate or endure the dissemination of doctrines which ought to be rejected and denounced with disapprobation and horror by every true patriot in every country, and by every honest man throughout the world; and to endeavour to prove also that the Sovereign of the French empire, the firm and faithful ally of England, is as well entitled to the protection of our laws as an English gentleman or an English Prince.  But, gentlemen, I learnt with great satisfaction from my learned friend, Mr. James, counsel for the defendants, that his client, who is an Englishman, and, as I am informed, a respectable English tradesman, and the father of a large family, is ready to deny, in terms unqualified, and without reserve, that he ever intended or desired, directly or indirectly, to countenance or encourage the crime of assassination, and that he is ready to express his regret that such a construction can have been put on any publication to which he has been a party.  Gentlemen, I think this course does honour and credit to the defendant as an Englishman, and I accept that which I have no doubt will be fairly and frankly stated, on behalf of his client, by my learned friend Mr. James.  I understand my learned friend is ready to offer to you and to my Lord and to the country the assurance of what I have stated, and the assurance likewise that the publication of this pamphlet has ceased, and will no longer be sold by him.  On that assurance it only remains for me to perform the duty, which I perform willingly and freely, on the part of the Crown—viz., to consent that you now pronounce a verdict of acquittal.
    Mr. E
DWIN JAMES then rose and said,—My Lord and gentlemen of the jury, I have not the least hesitation in responding most cheerfully, on the part of the defendant, to what has been stated by the Attorney-General.  If the case had proceeded it would have been most clear that there was no intention, either by the writer of the pamphlet or the publisher, to incite to assassination. So far as as he was concerned as the publisher, it was merely a disquisition on an abstract question, and he never intended to incite to assassination.  As to his not publishing and not selling any more of this paper, when in the first instance, it was represented to him by myself and my learned friends, he informed me that he feared he would be surrendering the dearest and most valuable liberty of the press, if, believing that no harm was intended, he entered into any engagement not to publish any more; but we took it upon ourselves to represent that the publication was liable to misconstruction, happening at a time when there was a feeling of irritation between two great nations, between whom every right-minded person trusts there will be harmony and everlasting peace; and the defendant, Mr. Truelove, acting under our advice that he would not be surrendering any privilege of the press, has consented that no future publication of the pamphlet shall take place, and that no more copies shall be sold.
    Lord C
AMPBELL said it would be the duty of the jury to find a verdict for the defendant. If the trial had proceeded, his Lordship said he had no doubt that, as an English jury, they would have done their duty; but observed that in this country everyone had the most entire liberty of commenting on the conduct not only of our own Government but of foreign Governments and foreign rulers, provided it was done with truth and moderation. His Lordship's voice here became scarcely audible, but, so far as we could collect what followed, his Lordship observed that, if the publication in question had been proved to have the tendency imputed to it, he had no doubt the jury would have done their duty, and found the defendant guilty. It would be a reproach not only to the law of England, but to that of any civilized country, if it were allowable to publish writings inciting to assassination. The liberty of the press required no such privilege, and such publications were an abuse of it. The learned Attorney-General had no doubt acted in this matter with the greatest propriety and the learned counsel who represented the defendant ha also acted with the greatest propriety in entering into the engagement that this publication shall no longer be sold. His Lordship added the expression of his opinion that the publication in question ought no longer to be circulated in this country.
    The Jury then found the defendant Not Guilty, and left the box.

Adams gives a complete account of the Tyrannicide episode in his Memoirs (Chpts. XXXV.—XXXVII).
3.    Adams' reflections on growing trade union power—see "The Law of the Workshop"—provide an interesting description of what in the post World War II years became known as "The British Disease", a disease that led in turn to the "winter of discontent" of 1979 and to the trade union reforms of the Thatcher era.

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