Political Skulduggery, What kept Charles Bradlaugh out of Parliament?

The “Atheist, Republican and Malthusian” Charles Bradlaugh  was a “sledgehammer” of a public speaker and he  had a huge following among  the working and artisan class, but he  was  not everyone’s hero. Otherwise at ideological loggerheads, Karl Marx and William Gladstone were both united in hating Bradlaugh.

Bradlaugh was elected as a Liberal MP for Northampton in the General Election of 1880, but though the Liberals won a majority, Bradlaugh  was kept from taking his seat in Parliament for six long years. From the Tory benches Lord Randolph Churchill initially organised the “Fourth Party” just to  harry Bradlaugh, and despite Gladstone being prime minister and the Liberals being in power, Bradlaugh publicly blamed the Tories for his exclusion. He also gave hostility to his  atheism as the reason for the endless manoevres to keep him from taking his seat. History has tended to share Bradlaugh’s view, but many  contemporaries saw Bradlaugh’s well known support for birth control as a greater threat to the world as they knew it, than his atheism.

Either way Bradlaugh was kept out of parliament for six years on various fluctuating arguments over his eligibility as an atheist to take the oath of allegiance on the Bible. And equally various and fluctuating arguments on whether atheists could affirm or not. The issue was finally resolved when the Tories were returned and an Act was passed allowing atheists to affirm allegiance, though before that Salisbury’s  Tory government had already allowed, what Gladstone’s Liberal government  had denied, and  quietly just allowed Bradlaugh to take the oath in the normal way. But there is more to the tale than simply that!

October 25th 2015 at 11am and again at 2pm
The Library
Conway Hall,
25 Red Lion Square,

Part of Parliament’s Magna  Carta “Festival of Freedoms” celebrations.

More information