Charles Bradlaugh, “Atheist, Republican and Malthusian”, was a huge maverick figure in late nineteenth-century radical politics, and often filled Trafalgar Square with his followers. He was not everyone’s hero; figures as opposed as Karl Marx and William Gladstone were united in hating him. Today, when the battles Bradlaugh fought are mostly won, he is a forgotten figure. Yet Bradlaugh needs to be remembered, not just for standing trial under the Obscene Publications Act in 1877 with Mrs Annie Besant for publishing a birth control pamphlet, but for the six-year battle he fought to take his seat as M.P. for Northampton. Extraordinarily Bradlaugh won his parliamentary seat in 1880 as a Liberal, yet it was Gladstone’s Liberal government which kept him out for the entire parliament. A bit of historical skulduggery with lessons for today.
Speaker Deborah Lavin is active in the Socialist History Society and the Freethought History Research Group. She writes and often speaks on Charles Bradlaugh and his great public row with Karl Marx over the Commune of Paris.