Chartist, Republican, supporter of women's
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
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
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
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
"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
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,"
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 . 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 . 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."
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
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
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  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
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.
* See John Critchley Prince, "The
Feb 23, 1858.
PROSECUTION FOR LIBEL ON THE EMPEROR OF THE FRENCH.
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 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. HENRY.—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. HENRY.—So is
this. There is no doubt about it.
Mr. Bodkin.—It is not necessary that the name should be so
is internal evidence as clear as possible showing to whom it
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.
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
declined, and in the course of an hour bail to the amount fixed was
provided, and defendant was set at liberty.
June 23, 1858.
COURT OF QUEEN'S BENCH, WESTMINSTER, JUNE 21.
(Sittings at Nisi Prius, before Lord CAMPBELL
THE QUEEN V. TRUELOVE.
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.
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. EDWIN 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
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
Adams gives a complete account
of the Tyrannicide episode in his Memoirs (Chpts.
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.