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Charles Bradlaugh

Charles Bradlaugh

Freethinker & politician.
Malthusian & Republican.
Born near this site at 5 Bacchus Walk
26 September 1833.
(LBH Housing, south of Regan Way)

Charles Bradlaugh was born on 26th September, 1833 in Hoxton, the son of a solicitor’s clerk.  As a young man he came under the influence of the ideas of Richard Carlile, who had been sent to prison for blasphemy in 1819.  Like Carlile, Bradlaugh began to question the truth of Christianity and this led to arguments with his father.

Charles left home at the age of 16 due to religious differences with his father and he enlisted in the army.  Army life wasn’t for him however, and he obtained a discharge in 1853.  By this time Charles was a committed republican and freethinker and established the radical journal ‘The National Reformer’ in 1860 along with Joseph Barker.  Charles was being widely recognised as one of the leading freethinkers in Britain.

In 1877 Charles and Annie Besant published ‘The Fruits of Philosophy’, Charles Knowlton’s book advocating birth control.  Annie and Charles were charged and found guilty of publishing an “obscene libel” and sentenced to 6 months in prison.

Bradlaugh was elected to represent Northampton in Parliament in 1880, but as he was not a Christian had asked for permission to affirm rather the oath of office.  This request was refused and Charles mounted a national campaign to allow atheists to sit in the House of Commons.  When he tried to take his seat in Parliament in 1880 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London.  Prime Minister of the time Benjamin Disraeli warned that Bradlaugh could become a martyr and decided to release him.

Charles attempted to enter Parliament on several other occasions and was forcibly removed.  However in January 1886 he was allowed to affirm and thus gained the right to speak and vote in the House of Commons.  He continued to argue for republicanism and was a fierce critic of pensions paid to the royal family and Britain’s foreign policy whilst supporting free speech, trade unionism and other controversial clauses.

Charles Bradlaugh died on 30th January 1891, and the 3,000 mourners who attended saw him buried on un-consecrated ground.

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Page updated: 15 Jun 2010 

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