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
25 Red Lion Square,
WC1 R 3RL
Part of Parliament’s Magna Carta “Festival of Freedoms” celebrations.