William Cremer was born in Fareham, Hampshire, on 18th March, 1828. His father, a coach painter, deserted the family when he was a child. His mother, a devout Methodist, sent him to a church school until becoming an apprenticed carpenter at the age of fifteen.
Cremer was an active trade unionist and took part in the campaign for the nine-hour day in 1858. He also helped to establish the International Working Men's Association and the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners. A pacifist, Cremer was a leading advocate of settling international disputes by arbitration.
Following the 1867 Reform Act, the working class made up the majority of the electorate. Cremer, a member of the Liberal Party, stood for Warwick in the 1868 General Election. He campaigned for the secret ballot, compulsory education, direct taxation, reform of trade union law, and international boards of arbitration to adjudicate disputes among nations. Cremer was defeated and also failed to be elected in the 1874 General Election.
In 1870 Cremer formed the Workmen's Peace Association. Initially it promoted England's neutrality during the Franco-Prussian War but eventually became the forerunner of the International Arbitration League (IAL).
The passing of the 1884 Reform Act made it easier for trade unionists to be elected to Parliament. The following year Cremer was elected to the working-class seat of Haggerston in London. Cremer used the public platform of the House of Commons to argue for international boards of arbitration to adjudicate disputes among nations. In 1888 he joined with the French politician, Frederick Passy, to form the Interparliamentary Union in Paris. The following year he became editor of the peace journal, The Arbitor.
Cremer was defeated in the 1895 General Election. but won his seat back five years later. Cremer's work for international peace resulted in him winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1903. He immediately gave £7,000 of the £8,000 prize to the International Arbitration League. Cremer, who was secretary of the IAL, later gave an additional £1,000 to the organization.
In the House of Commons Cremer, now a member of the Labour Party, campaigned for the rights of working class men but was strongly opposed to women's suffrage. This brought him into conflict with his party leader, Keir Hardie, a passionate supporter of women's rights.
William Cremer died of pneumonia on 22nd July, 1908.