William Randal Cremer (March 18, 18281-July 22, 1908) was born in the small town of Fareham, England, not far from Portsmouth, into a working class family at a time when intense misery was the workingman’s lot. His father, a coach painter, deserted the family while the boy was still an infant. His mother, an indomitable woman, raised her son and two daughters despite stringent poverty and even sent her son to school – a church school, for she was a strong Methodist. At fifteen he was apprenticed to an uncle in the building trades, eventually becoming a full-fledged carpenter. During this time he supplemented his meager formal education by attending lectures. On one occasion he heard a lecture on peace in which the speaker suggested that international disputes be settled by arbitration, an idea that Cremer never forgot.
Cremer moved to London in 1852. There his capacity for administration was recognized in 1858 when, at the age of thirty, he was elected to a council of those running a campaign for the nine-hour day; later in that year he was one of seven who directed labor during a lockout of 70,000 men. He was instrumental in forming a single union for his trade: the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners; he participated in the formation of the International Working Men’s Association but withdrew his support when the Association was taken over by more revolutionary thinkers.
Inevitably, it occurred to Cremer that labor should be actively represented in Parliament. He stood for Warwick in 1868 on a liberal platform calling for the vote by ballot, compulsory education, Irish disestablishment, direct taxation, land reform, amendment of the laws governing labor unions, creation of courts of conciliation to handle labor-management disputes and of international boards of arbitration to adjudicate disputes among nations. He was defeated then and again in 1874. But after the third Reform Bill of 1885 created the new constituency of Haggerston in suburban London, which consisted almost entirely of workingmen, he was elected to Parliament in 1885, 1886, and 1892. Defeated in 1895, he was reelected in 1900, retaining his seat until his death.
Cremer used his power as a member of Parliament and his prestige as a labor leader to advance his passionate belief that peace was the only acceptable state for mankind and arbitration the method by which it could be achieved. A committee of workingmen which he formed in 1870 to promote England’s neutrality during the Franco-Prussian conflict became the Workmen’s Peace Association in 1871 and it, in turn, provided the keystone for the International Arbitration League, an association to which he thereafter contributed both his time and his money.
In 1887, two years after entering Parliament, Cremer secured 234 signatures of members of Commons to a resolution addressed to the President and the Congress of the United States urging them to conclude with the government of Great Britain a treaty stipulating that disputes arising between the two governments which defied settlement by diplomacy should be referred to arbitration. In that same year Cremer, heading a delegation of British statesmen, presented the resolution to President Cleveland.
The resolution excited the interest of Frédéric Passy and other French deputies who invited Cremer and his colleagues to an exploratory meeting in Paris in 1888. As a result of this meeting the Interparliamentary Union2 was formed and its first meeting held in Paris in 1889, with representatives from eight nations in attendance. Cremer was elected vice-president of the Union and secretary of the British section.
Cremer was a lonely man: his first wife died in 1876, his second in 1884; there were no children. He lived simply, enjoyed nature, worked long hours. He was also a generous man. The cash value of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1903 was about £8,000. He immediately gave £7,000 to the League of which he was secretary and later an additional £1,000.
Stricken by pneumonia, he died on July 22, 1908.
|Cremer, William Randal, «Parliamentary and Interparliamentary Experiences», The Independent, 61 (August 30, 1906) 508-513.|
|Davis, Hayne, «Cremer and the Interparliamentary Union», The Independent, 61 (July 19, 1906) 126-131.|
|Dictionary of National Biography: Twentieth Century Supplement, 1901-1911. London, Oxford University Press, 1912.|
|Efremov, Ivan N., «La Conciliation internationale», Recueil des cours, 18 (1927) 1-148. The Hague, Académie de droit international. The history of arbitration during the Cremer period is covered in pp. 5-62.|
|Evans, Howard, Sir Randal Cremer: His Life and Work. London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1909.|
|François, M.J.P.A., «La Cour permanente d’arbitrage: son origine, sa jurisprudence, son avenir», Recueil des cours, 87 (1955) 457-553. The Hague, Académie de droit international.|
|Obituary, the (London) Times (July 23, 1908) 13.|
|Ralston, Jackson H., International Arbitration: From Athens to Locarno. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1929.|
1. Les Prix Nobel, the Dictionary of National Biography, the (London) Times, Who’s Who, the Guide to Periodical Literature, and the Annual Register give 1838 as the year of Cremer’s birth. Sir Randal’s biographer, Howard Evans, gives 1828. Investigation confirms this latter date. The following entry appears in the baptismal register of the Wesleyan Chapel, Daniel Street, Portsea, Portsmouth (RG4/563): «William Randall, son of George Morris and Harriett Cremer, was born March 18, 1828, and baptized July 6th, 1828. Residence Fareham by me, W. Toase, Minister.» This information was sent to the editor by C.F. Coghlan, correspondent and trustee of the Cremer Cottages Charity, in a letter dated October 21, 1969, Fareham, Hants, England. The name Randall is here written with two «l’s», but Cremer always wrote his name with one «l».
2. See biography of Frédéric Passy, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1901.
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