Baines was educated at a local private school and then at the nonconformist grammar school New College, Manchester. After leaving school he joined his father in the newspaper business.
On 9th August 1819, Baines sent his 19 year old son to cover the parliamentary reform meeting in Manchester that was to be addressed by Henry Hunt. According to the author of The Life of Edward Baines (2009): "He felt it would offer his son a valuable experience and an ideal opportunity to hone his journalistic skills." The meeting turned into the Peterloo Massacre and his report inThe Leeds Mercury blamed both the organisers of the event and the officers of the yeomanry for the disaster.
In January 1827, Edward Baines announced that the The Leeds Mercury was now owned by "Baines and Son". When he acquired the Liverpool Advertiser (renamed the Liverpool Times) in 1829 he arranged for his son to run the newspaper.
After the 1832 Reform Act Leeds was granted two members of parliament. In the next General Election The Leeds Mercury supported the two Whig candidates, John Marshall, the owner of the largest flax-spinning factory in Leeds, and the historian Thomas Macaulay. Marshall (2,012) and Macaulay (1,914) were elected. Michael Sadler, the leader of the factory reform movement received only 1,590 votes and was defeated.
In 1833 Thomas Macaulay resigned his seat in order to take up a post in India. Edward Baines was chosen as the Liberal candidate to replace Macaulay. In February 1834 Edward Baines (1,951) defeated the Tory candidate, Sir John Beckett (1,917). His son now took on full responsibility for running The Leeds Mercury. Baines senior later recalled that he was grateful for his son's "indefatigable exertions in the management of the Leeds Mercury newspaper and my affairs and interests generally during the time that I sat in Parliament."
Although the The Leeds Mercury supported some liberal measures such as parliamentary reform and the repeal of the corn laws, it was totally opposed to factory legislation. Baines agreed with his father on this issue and in 1835 he wrote History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain. In the book Baines attacked those who had campaigned against child labour. He accused them of providing a false picture of what it was like to work in a textile factory. Baines claimed in his book that "factory labour is far less injurious than many other forms of employment". He went on to argue that many of the factory children were born in bad health and that they "sink under factory labour, as they would under any kind of labour."
Edward Baines, like his father, was totally opposed to the idea of state education. They both campaigned against the government bill to set up factory schools. At a meeting in Leeds in 1843 he argued: "There is one thing this measure will do for the poor. It will deteriorate their condition. It will deprive them of their independence and lead them to look up for state supplies when they ought to look to their own industry. It will make them look upon the state instead of themselves."
Edward Baines, who was knighted in 1880, died in 1890.
It is alleged that the children who labour in factories are often cruelly beaten by the spinners or overlookers that their feeble limbs become distorted by continual standing and stooping, and they grow up cripples. That they are compelled to work thirteen, fourteen or fifteen hours per day. Views such as these have been repeatedly given of factory labour which have persuaded many to think they must be true. But this is the exception not the rule.
The human frame is liable to an endless variety of diseases. Many of the children who are born into the world, and who attain the age of ten or twelve years, are so weakly, that under any circumstances they would die early. Such children would sink under factory labour, as they would under any circumstances they would die early.
It is not true to represent the work of piecers and scavengers as continually straining. None of the work in which children and young persons are engaged in mills require constant attention. It is scarcely possible for any employment to be lighter. The position of the body is not injurious: the children walk about, and have the opportunity of frequently sitting if they are so disposed.
The noise and whirl of the machinery, which are unpleasant and confusing to a spectator unaccustomed to the scene, produce not the slightest effect on the operatives habituated to it. The only thing that makes factory labour trying is that they are confined for long hours, and deprived of fresh air: this makes them pale, and reduces their vigour, but it rarely brings on disease. The minute fibres of cotton which float in the rooms are admitted, even by medical men, not to be injurious to young persons.
If a spinner can now produce as much in a day as he could last century have produced in a year, and if goods which formerly required eight months to bleach, are now bleached in two days, surely these are the very causes of the amazing extension of the manufacture, and are therefore, subjects of rejoicing, not of lamentation.
No doubt, whilst Baines occupied himself with producing his directories for 1822 and 1823, his son did take on additional responsibilities. He certainly reported on some major events, like the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, and he may well have contributed his first editorials whilst his father was away in Scotland visiting Owen's factory at New Lanark. But it would have been impossible for Edward jun., to edit the paper regularly. During much of the 1820s he was not even in Leeds. From 1819 to 1822 and for eight months in 1824 he was in London, whilst during much of the 1820s he was involved in journeys to Portsmouth, Edinburgh and the Lake District broadening his education. He succeeded in this object to the point that he now viewed Leeds as "a comparatively small mean and empty place". It would be an opinion no doubt enhanced when in 1825-6. like so many young middle-class men at the time, he embarked on a grand tour of the Continent, sending back long and detailed descriptions of the places he visited, which his father regularly published.
From March 1829 and for the rest of that year Edward was based in Liverpool guiding his brother Thomas in his early days as editor of the Liverpool Times. Even after the 1834 election, when Baines became all MP and Edward jun. took on the full responsibility for running the Leeds Mercury Baines senior made a point of contributing to its columns whenever he was back in Leeds. Edward Baines, no doubt, was ably assisted by his son in running the Leeds Mercury but there is no doubt the father remained in full control until his election to Westminster. Baines made that very point in his will, writing that he was grateful for his son's "indefatigable exertions in the management of the Leeds Mercury newspaper and my affairs and interests generally during the time that I sat in Parliament."