John Wade

John Wade was born in London in 1788. His first job was as a wool sorter. Wade was interested in reading and used to visit Francis Place's bookshop at 16 Charing Cross Road. Francis Place lent him books by Tom Paine and Joseph Priestley. Place also introduced Wade to other reformers such as Sir Francis Burdett and Jeremy Bentham. Wade was particularly impressed by Bentham who he described as the "apostle of reason".

In 1818 Francis Place persuaded Jeremy Bentham and Henry Bickersteth to provide the funds that would enable Wade to publish his own radical newspaper. The Gorgon dealt mostly with trade union matters. The newspaper gave support to the Manchester cotton-spinners in their long strike in 1818. Wade also complained against the Combination Acts that had been passed by William Pitt and his Tory government in 1799 and 1800. As a result of this legislation all combinations of workers to press their employers for shorter hours or more pay was forbidden. John Wade also used The Gorgon to help John Gast organise the London dock workers in 1819.

Although primarily interested in trade unions, John wade wrote several articles in favour of parliamentary reform. In 1819 Wade stopped publishing The Gorgon and instead concentrated on collecting evidence of inequality and corruption. This information was eventually published in The Black Book: Corruption Unmasked (1819). The book that contained detailed information on the revenues of the aristocracy and clergy, the Civil List, the police and the law courts, and the relationship between government and companies such as the East India Company.

The Black Book: Corruption Unmasked was a great success and sold over 50,000 copies. Wade followed this with a Supplement (1823) that gave details of what he called England's "woeful spectacle of want, misery, embarrassment and degradation." In the Supplement Wade produced his own reform programme including universal suffrage, free non-sectarian education, revision of the criminal code and a revised system of taxation.

In 1828 John Wade joined the staff of The Spectator. He still found time to write books including An Account of Public Charities in England and Wales (1828), Police and Crimes of the Metropolis (1829) and History of the Middle and Working Classes (1833).

As Wade got older he became more conservative. He attacked Henry Orator Hunt as "a brazen-faced booby", described William Cobbett as "a fool" and John Cartwright as "crazy". In the 1830s John Wade took the view that political reform would only take place with a change in public opinion. Although he still believed that universal suffrage was "good and just" he argued that the Radicals were wrong to demand a change in the law because "public opinion was so decidedly against it". Wade opposed the activities of the Chartists claiming that their leaders were "rash and foolish" because of their "brutish experiences". Instead of supporting the Chartists, Wade urged the workers to join forces with the middle classes against the corrupt aristocracy.

John Wade's radicalism declined even more after 1862 when Lord Palmerston arranged for him to receive a weekly pension.

John Wade died on 29th September, 1875.

Primary Sources

(1) John Wade, The Gorgon (21st November, 1818)

We have no hesitation in saying that the cause of the deterioration in the circumstances of workmen generally, and the different degrees of deterioration among different classes of journeymen, depends entirely on the degree of perfection that prevails among them, which the law has pronounced a crime - namely, combination. The circumstances of the workman do not in the least depend on the prosperity or profits of the masters, but on the power of the workmen to command - nay to extort a high price for their labour.

(2) John Wade, The Gorgon (18th August, 1818)

The industrious orders may be compared to the soil, out of which everything is evolved and produced; the other classes to the trees, tares, weeds and vegetables, drawing their nutriment on its surface.

(3) John Wade, The Gorgon (26th September, 1818)

Of the four staple manufactures, namely, cotton, linen, cloth, and iron, perhaps, on an average, the raw material does not constitute one-tenth of their value, the remaining nine-tenths being created by the labours of the weaver, spinner, dyer, smith, cutler, and fifty others. It is by trading in the blood and bones of the journeymen and labourers of England that our merchants have derived their riches, and the country its glory.