John Cleave was born in about 1790. As a boy he went to sea but by 1828 he was in London working with Henry Hetherington in the Civil and Religious Association. Cleave set himself up as a printer in 1831 at Snow Hill in London. Two years later he moved his business to Shoe Lane and added a bookstore and coffee shop to his printing business. Cleave worked for a while with Hetherington and James Watson on the Poor Man's Guardian but in 1834 he started his own newspaper Cleave's Weekly Police Gazette. As well as providing information on the latest crimes, Cleave's newspaper also campaigned for political reform. The newspaper was a great success and by 1836 the newspaper was selling 40,000 copies a week.
Like other radical publishers, Cleave refused to pay stamp-duty on his newspapers and this resulted in fines and periods of imprisonment. Cleave played a leading role in the campaign against these taxes on newspapers and pamphlets. John Cleave believed that the repeal of the stamp-duty would encourage a growth in radical newspapers which in turn would result in a change in the political system. He told one meeting that: "When we have a free press, who will dare oppress us.". The campaign against taxes on knowledge resulted in several reforms in the law. In 1833 the four-penny tax on newspapers was reduced to one-penny. The same year Parliament agreed to remove the tax on pamphlets.
In 1836 Cleave joined with Henry Hetherington and William Lovett to form the London Working Men's Association. Later he was to play an active role in the National Charter Association and for a while was its treasurer. In the summer of 1837 John Cleave went on a speaking tour of Northern England with Henry Vincent and helped establish Working Mens' Associations in Hull, Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield. In 1841 Cleave's daughter married Henry Vincent.
When the National Charter Association split over tactics, Cleave supported William Lovett and the Moral Force Chartists. John Cleave continued to work for universal suffrage and the complete removal of the stamp duty on newspapers until his death in 1847.
(1) William Lovett, Life and Struggles (1876)
John Cleave, bookseller and publisher, was I think about the same age as Hetherington. He had been, I think, a sailor in early life, and had much of the sailor in his bearing. He was also rude and bluff in his manner at times, but he had a warm and generous heart; always ready to aid the good cause, and to lend a helping hand to the extent of his means. He laboured hard, and made great sacrifices in freeing the press from the stamps that fettered it.
John Cleave, independent of his fines and imprisonment, he made great sacrifices, both in his business and otherwise, during many years of the contest. For long before he commenced the publishing of his Police Gazette - which was very successful for a time - he was indefatigable in going about in all directions advocating the cause of the unshackled press and in promoting the sale of the unstamped. John Cleave (though, like most of us, not without his faults) was also warm-hearted and benevolent; and that without much means at his disposal. I have known him, and his kind-hearted wife, to preserve from perishing many of the poor starving boys that were to be found about the pens of Smithfield; by taking them into his kitchen when cold, hungry, and filthy; by feeding and cleansing them; while he has gone round among his friends to beg some old clothes to cover them, taken care of them, till he had finally got them berths at sea. And these poor boys he had generously fed or otherwise provided for them the means of earning their living.
(2) Rights of Women, a pamphlet published by John Cleave in 1840.
If a woman is qualified to be a queen over a great nation, armed with power of nullifying the powers of Parliament. If it is to be admissible that the queen, a woman, by the constitution of the country can command, can rule over a nation, then I say, women in every instance ought not to be excluded from her share in the executive and legislative power of the country.
If women be subject to pains and penalties, on account of that infringement of any laws or laws - even unto death - in the name of common justice, she ought to have a voice in making the laws she is bound to obey.
It is a most introvertive fact, that women contribute to the wealth and resources of the kingdom. Debased is the man who would say women have no right to interfere in politics, when it is evident, that they have as much right as a man.