Bradlaugh, Charles, 1833-1891

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Charles Bradlaugh was an active and controversial worker for social reform in England. Largely self-educated, he questioned theological, political, and social issues in countless pamphlets and speeches throughout England and the United States. Publicity and scandal followed him, perhaps most notably in the 1877 trial of Bradlaugh and Annie Besant for publishing Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy. He was elected to Parliament, but was disallowed from sitting in the house because of his stance on the oath of office. Bradlaugh's legacy goes beyond his championing such radical causes as women's equality, birth control, land reform, labor reform, compulsory education, and the alleviation of poverty; he remains a notable example of working through the system to effect positive change.

From the description of Charles Bradlaugh letters, clippings, and related materials, 1880-1935. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 61113061

Epithet: Subject of Mss Eur D767

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001394.0x00025f

Born Hoxton, London, September 1833, the son of a solicitor's clerk; aged 12 employed as an office boy in his father's company; during his early years, Bradlaugh increasingly became influenced by the ideas of Richard Carlile who was sent to prison for blasphemy and seditious libel in 1819, and he began to question Christian ideals. Due to religious disputes with his family, Bradlaugh left home in 1849 and shortly after joined the Seventh Dragoon Guards, although he was to obtain a discharge in 1853, finding work in a law office. Now a committed republican and freethinker, he joined Joseph Barker, a Sheffield Chartist, to form The National Reformer in 1860.

During the 1860s, Bradlaugh published a series of pamphlets on politics and religion becoming one of Britain's leading freethinkers. He helped in the establishment of the National Secular Society in 1866. Shortly after, Bradlaugh met Annie Besant, who he employed on The National Reformer. In 1877, Bradlaugh and Besant published Charles Knowlton's book The Fruits of Knowledge concerning birth control and, as a result, both were charged and sentenced to six months in prison, although at the Court of Appeal, the sentence was quashed.

In 1880, after several previous attempts, Bradlaugh was elected Member of Parliament for Northampton and, due to his beliefs, sought permission to affirm rather than to take the oath of office; request was refused and he was expelled from the House of Commons; campaigned to allow atheists to sit in the Commons, attracting support from Non-Conformists and some important figures, such as William Gladstone, although it angered many in the clergy and members of the Conservative Party. Attempts to take his seat in June 1880 and April 1881, met with resistance, including a spell imprisoned in the Tower of London. After being refused access in August, a petition was presented to Parliament and, in May 1883, an Affirmation Bill, headed by Gladstone, was defeated in the Commons. Bradlaugh was re-elected in 1884 and again tried to affirm and take his seat, including voting three times for which he was later fined. A further attempt to affirm in January 1886 was accepted by the Speaker, Sir Arthur Wellesley Peel, and he was allowed to sit remaining a fervent republican and critic of British foreign policy, most notably in South Africa, Sudan, Afghanistan and Egypt. Bradlaugh died in January 1891.

From the guide to the BRADLAUGH, Charles (1833-1891), 1702-1969, (Bishopsgate Institute)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Gannett, Lewis, 1891-1966. Papers, 1681-1966 (bulk 1900-1960) Houghton Library
referencedIn Sharman, William, 1841-1889. Papers, 1858-1888. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Riley, William Harrison, 1835-1907. William Harrison Riley papers, 1844-1899 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Bradlaugh, Charles, 1833-1891. Letter to Mr. Summers. [London, Eng.] 1885 Oct. 14. University of Iowa Libraries
referencedIn William Tallack Correspondence, 1830-1907 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn British Correspondence and Miscellany Collection, 1556-1972 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn J. S. Bliss Correspondence, 1867-1882 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874. Correspondence, 1829-1874 Houghton Library
creatorOf BRADLAUGH, Charles (1833-1891), 1702-1969 Bishopsgate Institute
referencedIn Houghton Library printed book provenance file, A-D Houghton Library
referencedIn Photographs of notable 19th-century men and women, 1874-1912. Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Papers of Francis Ellingwood Abbot, 1841-1904. Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Riley, William Harrison, 1835-1907. William Harrison Riley papers, 1844-1899 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn British Correspondence, A-K, 1556-1972 and n.d. [bulk 1740-1890]. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn Manuscript Albums, 1615 - 1959 Newcastle University: Special Collections
creatorOf Bradlaugh, Charles, 1833-1891. Charles Bradlaugh letters, clippings, and related materials, 1880-1935. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
creatorOf Wilson, Stephen Shipley, 1904-. Letters, ca.1850-1950. Haverford College Library
creatorOf Charles Bradlaugh printed bill concerning religious prosecutions, 1888 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Abbot, Francis Ellingwood, 1836-1903 person
associatedWith Bliss, J. S. person
associatedWith Bonner, Hypatia Bradlaugh, 1858-1935 person
correspondedWith Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. corporateBody
correspondedWith Gannett, Lewis, 1891-1966 person
associatedWith Great Britain Parliament House of Commons corporateBody
associatedWith Houghton Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Indian National Congress corporateBody
associatedWith National Secular Society (Great Britain) corporateBody
associatedWith Riley, William Harrison, 1835-1907. person
associatedWith Sharman, William, 1841-1889. person
correspondedWith Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874 person
associatedWith Symonds, A. G. (Arthur G.), d. 1924, person
associatedWith Tallack, William, 1831-1908 person
associatedWith Wilson, Stephen Shipley, 1904- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Great Britain
Parliamentary elections
Social reformers


Birth 1833-09-26

Death 1891-01-30





Ark ID: w6hq5c3h

SNAC ID: 70683958