Charles Bradlaugh

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Charles Bradlaugh

Charles Bradlaugh (26 September 1833 – 30 January 1891) was a political activist and a prominent English atheist of the 19th century.[1][2] Bradlaugh founded the National Secular Society in 1866.

Early life

Bradlaugh, Charles (1833–1891), politician and freethinker, was born on 26 September 1833 at home at 31 Bacchus Walk, Hoxton, London, the eldest of seven children born to Charles Bradlaugh, a solicitor's clerk, and his wife, Elizabeth Trimby, a former nursemaid. He was baptized at St Leonard, Shoreditch, on 8 December 1833, and educated at local elementary day schools and St Peter's Sunday school, Hackney Road, where he became a teacher.

Doubts

While preparing for confirmation in 1849, Bradlaugh questioned the doctrines of the church. Pressure to conform caused him to leave home and he took lodgings with Elizabeth Sharples Carlile, the widow of Richard Carlile, and her family at the Warner Street temperance hall. He gave his first public lecture—‘The past, present and future of theology’—10 October 1850 at the age of 17. Having failed to earn his living as a coal merchant, in December 1850 he enlisted in the 7th dragoon guards and was posted to Ireland.

Family

This had a deep effect on his political views. In 1852 his father died, and the following year a legacy from his great-aunt was used to purchase his discharge; he took a job as errand boy (and was soon promoted to clerk) with Thomas Rogers, a solicitor of 70 Fenchurch Street. On 5 June 1855 he married Susannah (Susan) Lamb Hooper at St Philip's, Stepney. Their first child, Alice Bradlaugh [see under Bonner, Hypatia Bradlaugh], was born on 30 April 1856 at their home at 4 West Street, Bethnal Green; Hypatia Bonner followed on 31 March 1858, and Charles on 14 September 1859.

In 1870 Susan Bradlaugh and the two girls went to live with her parents in Midhurst, Sussex; young Charles died of kidney failure in July.

Professional Life

Bradlaugh lived a double life: professionally, he was a skilled lawyer, though nominally only a solicitor's clerk; privately, he was also a free thought and radical lecturer with a growing national reputation. To protect his employer's name, in 1855 he adopted the pseudonym Iconoclast, with which he kept his identities apart until 1868. From November 1858 he edited a free thought periodical, The Investigator, which failed in August 1859, and he was then invited to co-edit the National Reformer, with which his name was associated as editor (1860–64; 1866–1890) and owner (from 1862) until his death. Bradlaugh also became noted in radical politics: at the Hyde Park Sunday trading riots (July 1855); in support of Felice Orsini, the would-be assassin of Napoleon III (1858); and in campaigns for an extension of the franchise in Britain (from 1859).

Having failed to secure articles from Rogers, in 1858 Bradlaugh was apprenticed clerk to Thomas Harvey, who also refused to article him and eventually went bankrupt. He then moved to Montague Leverson, a radical with equally dubious business dealings, who articled him in June 1862, but the two men parted in 1864. After this, Bradlaugh supplemented his earnings from lecturing and journalism with freelance legal and financial work, notably for the Naples Colour Company (1866–9). He was soon several hundreds of pounds in debt and his wife was becoming an alcoholic in the company of a former army friend, the poet James Thomson.

Beliefs

Bradlaugh held a wide range of beliefs which included support for ending the British monarchy i.e. Republicanism. He was a likely candidate for the Presidency of Great Britain should the monarchy have ended. His Atheism is probably what Bradlaugh is best known for. A strong proponent for Universal suffrage he chose Northampton as a likely constituency due to the relatively high number of working-class people, mostly shoeworkers 'cobblers', who owned property which was a pre-requisite for being able to vote. He promoted education on birth control. Following his experiences as soldier in Ireland he became a supporter for Home Rule. He also supported Indian Independence becoming known as the 'Representative for India' and had a hall named after him in Lahore.

Member of Parliament

In 1880, Bradlaugh was elected as the Liberal MP for Northampton. His attempt to affirm as an atheist, rather than take a parliamentary Oath of Allegiance which assumed a new MP was a Christian (and a Monarchist), ultimately led to his temporary imprisonment, fines for voting in the Commons illegally, and a number of by-elections at which Bradlaugh regained his seat on each occasion. He was finally allowed to take an oath in 1886. Eventually, a parliamentary bill which he proposed became law in 1888 which allowed members of both Houses of Parliament to affirm, if they so wished, when being sworn in. The new law also resolved the issue for witnesses in civil and criminal court cases.

References

  1. Discussion on Atheism: Report of a Public Discussion Between the Rev. Brewin Grant, B.A., and C. Bradlaugh, Esq., Held in South Place Chapel, Finsbury, London, on Tuesday Evenings, Commencing June 22, and Ending July 27, 1875, on the Question, "Is Atheism Or is Christianity the True Secular Gospel, as Tending to the Improvement and Happiness of Mankind in this Life by Human Efforts and Material Means.". Brewin Grant Charles Bradlaugh, January 1, 1890, Anti-liberation Society, page 10-12 [1]
  2. "Atheism - etymology"

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  • Arnstein, Walter L. (1962) "Gladstone and the Bradlaugh Case," Victorian Studies, (1962) 5#4 pp 303–330
  • Arnstein, Walter L. (1965) The Bradlaugh Case: a study in late Victorian opinion and politics. Oxford University Press. (2nd ed. with new postscript chapter published as The Bradlaugh Case: Atheism, Sex and Politics Among the Late Victorians, University of Missouri Press, 1983. ISBN 0-8262-0425-2)
  • Besant, Annie. Autobiographical Sketches (1885) in which Bradlaugh plays a major role. [2]
  • Besant, Annie. An Autobiography (1893) in which Chap VI is devoted to Charles Bradlaugh. [3]
  • Bonner, Hypatia Bradlaugh (1895). Charles Bradlaugh: A Record of His Life and Work, Vol 1. London, T. Fisher Unwin. [4]
  • Bonner, Hypatia Bradlaugh (1891), Catalogue of the Library of the Late Charles Bradlaugh. London: Mrs. H. Bradlaugh Bonner [5]
  • Champion of Liberty: Charles Bradlaugh (Centenary Volume) (1933). London, Watts & Co and Pioneer Press.
  • Diamond, M. (2003) Victorian Sensation, London, Anthem Press. ISBN 1-84331-150-X, pp. 101–110.
  • Headingly, Adolphe S. (1888). The biography of Charles Bradlaugh. London: Freethought Publishing Company.
  • Manvell, Roger (1976). Trial of Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh. London: Elek/Pemberton.
  • Niblett, Bryan (2011). Dare to Stand Alone: The Story of Charles Bradlaugh. Oxford: kramedart press. ISBN 978-0-9564743-0-8
  • Robertson, J.M. (1920). Charles Bradlaugh. London, Watts & Co.
  • Tribe, David (1971) President Charles Bradlaugh MP. London, Elek. ISBN 0-236-17726-5

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