« Bradford, John Bradlaugh, Charles Bradley, George Granville »

Bradlaugh, Charles

BRADLAUGH, CHARLES: English freethought advocate and politician; b. at Hoxton (a suburb of London) Sept. 26,1833; d. at London Jan. 30,1891. He was educated in local schools until the age of twelve, when his business life began. A few years later he became an advocate of freethought, and rapidly achieved notoriety for his propaganda. His attitude seriously affected his career, and at the age of seventeen he enlisted as a private soldier, remaining in the army three years. He then entered a solicitor's office, and soon rose to a position of responsibility. Meantime he had resumed his campaign for freethought, and in 1858 began a platform tour of the provinces, advocating not only radicalism in religion, but also in politics. From 1862 until his death, excepting in 1863–66, he was the proprietor of the republican National Reformer, and in his advocacy of radical politics was secretary of the fund raised in 1858 to defend E. Truelove for publishing a vindication of Orsini's attempt to assassinate Napoleon III. He was likewise a member of the parliamentary reform league of 1866, and drew up the first draft of the Fenian proclamation issued in the following year, while three years later he was the envoy of the English republicans to the Spanish republican leader Castelar, and was likewise nominated as candidate for a division of Paris on the foundation of the French republic in the same year. He then attempted to go to Paris on the outbreak of the Commune to be an intermediary between Thiers and the insurrectionists, but was arrested at Calais and forced to return to England.

In 1868 Bradlaugh's attempts to gain a seat in the House of Commons began, but his avowed principles caused his defeat both in that year and in 1874. Six years later, however, he was returned, and by his refusal to take the required oath on the Bible initiated a struggle which involved him in repeated scenes in the House of Commons and in eight legal actions. He was again and again excluded from the House, his willingness to take the oath as a mere matter of form, or to affirm, being overruled by the plea that he was an avowed freethinker. Nevertheless, he was reelected for Northampton by special elections after his expulsion in 1881 and 1882, and at the general election in 1886 was once more returned, being permitted this time to take his seat, which he retained until his death. During this troubled period of his life he was also involved in a contest for the abolition of all restrictions on the press, beginning with his refusal, in 1868, to give security to the government against the publication of blasphemy and sedition in his National Reformer. In the following year another legal contest resulted in the passage of the Evidence Amendment Act, by which the evidence of freethinkers was declared admissible, a judge having refused to take his testimony on the ground that he was a freethinker. A few years later, in 1874, he became associated with Annie Besant, who was assistant editor of the National Reformer until 1885, when she resigned on account of his opposition to socialism. In 1876 they were sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a fine of £200 for the publication of the Fruits of Philosophy, which advocated the artificial restraint of the increase of population. The sentence was suspended, however, and the contest resulted in the passage of an act removing the remaining restrictions on the press.

In Parliament Bradlaugh was active in securing the passage of a number of measures, of which the chief was one permitting the substitution of an affirmation for the oath both in the House of Commons and in the courts. In 1889 he visited India, and during his final illness the resolutions of his expulsion from the House of Commons were unanimously expunged. The writings of Bradlaugh were chiefly brief controversial pamphlets and contributions to the press. Among them the most important are The Impeachment of the House of Brunswick (London, 1872); Autobiography (1873); Land for the People (1877); The New Life of David (1877); Genesis, its Authorship and Authenticity (1882); and The True Story of my Parliamentary Struggle (1882).

Bibliography: A. S. Headingley, Biography of Charles Bradlaugh, London, 1880; C. R. Mackay, Life of Charles Bradlaugh ib. 1888; H. Bonner (his daughter), Charles Bradlaugh: A Record of his Life and Work, 2 vols., ib. 1894.

« Bradford, John Bradlaugh, Charles Bradley, George Granville »
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