John Wade exposes the system of political corruption in England (1835)

John Wade

The British Philosophic Radical John Wade (1788-1875) compiled detailed lists of all those who used the British state to get taxpayers money and legal privileges with the aim of so angering the British people that they would support the movement for reform:

The object of the Editor at first was, and now has been, to show the manifold abuses of an unjust and oppressive system; to show the dire calamities it has inflicted on the country, and by what ramifications of influence it has been supported.

Government has been a corporation, and had the same interests and the same principles of action as monopolists. It has been supported by other corporations; the Church has been one, the Agriculturists another; the Boroughs a third, the East-India Company a fourth, and the Bank of England a fifth: all these, and interests like these, constituted the citadel and out-works of its strength, and the first object of each has been to shun investigation. We have, however, rent the vail; those who before doubted may, if they please, come and see, and be convinced.

In the period between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the First Reform Act of 1832 radicals like John Wade attempted to expose the corruption at the heart of the British political system in order to arouse ordinary people to support the Reform movement. To do this, he documented in great detail the exact nature of “Oligarchical abuse” by the powerful vested interest groups which controlled the British state, namely the established Church, the big agriculturalists who benefited from protection, the rotten borough system which enabled a narrow group of men to secure seats in Parliament, the East-India Company, and the Bank of England. Beginning in 1820 “The Extraordinary Black Book, or Corruption Unmasked” went through many editions culminating in the edition of 1832 - the year the First Reform Act expanded the electorate to include middle class voters for the first time. The edition we have put online is a revised version of the 1832 edition which also contained a new Appendix which evaluated the activities of the new parliament which contained many reformers who had been elected in 1832. We don’t have a picture of Wade but we do have the frontispiece which shows the supporters of Reform in the new parliament: Lord Broughm, Landsdowne, Russell, Burdett, Althorpe, Grey, and the King in the centre. The caption which accompanied the engraving comes from a sonnet to liberty written by William Wordsworth, which states “We must be free or die, who speak the tongue That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold Which Milton held. In everything we are sprung Of Earth’s first blood, have titles manifold.”