Atheism and Politics: The Charles Bradlaugh Imbroglio
Gladstone faced a significant political challenge when the avowed atheist Charles Bradlaugh was elected in 1880 to the House of Commons. He was removed and banned from Parliament when he attempted to affirm rather than swear an oath before God and Queen. Gladstone attempted unsuccessfully to solve the crisis with an Affirmation Bill in 1883 that would allow Bradlaugh to take his seat without swearing an oath. In the process, the statesman became a symbol for many Americans, Catholics excepted, of political and religious liberty. Most significantly, Peterson demonstrates how a unity of thought and purpose existed between Americans and Gladstone. There existed a shared social and religious conservatism sufficiently tempered by liberal democratic principles to afford civil rights to a person deemed outside the boundaries of respectable society.