In April 1817, William Sherwin, a printer and Richard Carlile, a journalist, formed a publishing business in London. The company began publishing the radical journal, Sherwin's Political Register, and pamphlets written by Thomas Paine and Henry 'Orator' Hunt.
Carlile was one of the speakers at St. Peter's Field on 16th August, 1819. From the hustings Carlile had a good view of what happened. Carlile managed to avoid being arrested and after being hidden by local radicals, he took the first mail coach to London. The following day placards for Sherwin's Political Register began appearing in London with the words: 'Horrid Massacres at Manchester'. A full report of the Peterloo Massacre appeared in the next edition of the newspaper. The authorities responded by raiding Carlile's shop in Fleet Street and confiscating his complete stock of newspapers and pamphlets. In an attempt to keep in business, Richard Carlile changed the name of the newspaper that he published to the Republican.
In the first edition of the Republican Richard Carlile wrote a detailed article on the Peterloo Massacre. Carlile not only described how the military had charged the crowd but also criticised the government for its role in the incident. As soon as the paper was published Carlile was arrested. Under the seditious libel laws, it was offence to publish material that might encourage people to hate the government. Carlile was also charged with publishing Tom Paine's Common Sense, The Rights of Man and the Age of Reason.
In October 1819, Carlile was found guilty of blasphemy and seditious libel and was sentenced to three years in Dorchester Gaol and fined £1,500. Carlile was determined not to be silenced. While he was in prison he continued to write material for the Republican which was now being published by his wife. Due to the publicity created by Carlile's trial, the circulation of the newspaper increased dramatically and was now outselling pro-government newspapers such as The Times.
In December 1819 the government took further action by imposing a 4d. tax on cheap newspapers and imposing a minimum price of 7d. As most working people were earning less than 10 shillings a week, this severely reduced the number of people who could afford to buy radical newspapers.
The government also continued it policy of prosecuting those involved in publishing the Republican. In 1821 Jane Carlile was sentenced to two years imprisonment for seditious libel. Jane was replaced by Richard Carlile's sister, Mary, but within six months she was also in prison for the same offence. From his prison cell Richard Carlile called for financial support in his campaign to continue publishing the newspaper. During the next few months over £500 a week was sent to Carlile's shop in Fleet Street.
Carlile also asked for volunteers to sell the Republican. The Morning Chronicle pointed out that Carlile campaign was bound to fail as "we can hardly conceive that mere attachment to any set of principles without any hope of gain or advantage will induce men (in any number) to expose themselves to imprisonment for three years." The Morning Chronicle was wrong, during the next few couple of years over 150 men and women were sent to prison for selling the Republican. All told, they served over 200 years of imprisonment in the battle for press freedom.
Richard Carlile was released in 1823 but he was immediately arrested and sent back to prison for not paying his £1,500 fine. Carlile continued to write and edit the Republican from his prison cell. The authorities also maintained its policy of arresting and imprisoning people for selling the newspaper. In 1825, eight of Carlile's shopmen were sent to prison for periods ranging from six months to three years.
Richard Carlile was eventually released on 25th November 1825. He wrote in the next edition of the Republican that he hoped his long confinement would result in the freedom to publish radical political ideas. He added that if he had managed to do that he "would become a most happy man"..
(1) Richard Carlile, The Republican (27th August, 1819)
The massacre of the unoffending inhabitants of Manchester, on the 16th of August, by the Yeomanry Cavalry and Police at the instigation of the Magistrates, should be the daily theme of the Press until the murderers are brought to justice.
Captain Nadin and his banditti of Police, are hourly engaged to plunder and ill-use the peaceable inhabitants; whilst every appeal from those repeated assaults to the Magistrates for redress, is treated by them with derision and insult.
Every man in Manchester who avows his opinions on the necessity of reform, should never go unarmed - retaliation has become a duty, and revenge an act of justice.
(2) In 1822 Susannah Wright was imprisoned for selling Richard Carlile's The Republican. During the trial she made the following comments.
As the blood of the Christian Martyrs become the seed of the Christian Church, so shall our sufferings become the seed of free discussion, and in those very sufferings we will triumph over you.