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ATHEISM AND POLYGENESIS IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: CHARLES BRADLAUGH'S RACIAL ANTHROPOLOGY

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 January 2018

NATHAN G. ALEXANDER
Affiliation:
Independent scholar E-mail: nathan.g.alexander50@gmail.com
Corresponding

Abstract

This article examines a previously unexplored chapter in the history of atheism: its close links with nineteenth-century racial anthropology. These links are apparent especially in many atheists’ interest in polygenesis, the theory that human races had separate origins, in contrast to the orthodox Christian doctrine of monogenesis that said all races descended from Adam and Eve. The article's focus is Charles Bradlaugh (1833–91), arguably the most important British atheist of the era, representing the radical working-class, secularist movement that emerged in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. The article charts the ways Bradlaugh and other atheists used the research on polygenesis from leading scientific racists in both Britain and the United States to critique Christianity. It also explores some of the contradictions of this use, namely the ways polygenesis clashed with Darwinism and a longer chronology of the age of the Earth. Finally, the article explores how polygenist ideas informed Bradlaugh's imperial worldview and notes that, despite his acceptance of polygenesis, Bradlaugh was a supporter of the rights of nonwhites in the British Empire, particularly in India.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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Footnotes

I would like to thank John Clark, Felix Driver, Colin Kidd, David Livingstone, and the two reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

References

1 There is no discussion of Bradlaugh's racial thinking in Tribe, David, President Charles Bradlaugh M.P. (London, 1971)Google Scholar; Niblett, Bryan, Dare to Stand Alone: The Story of Charles Bradlaugh (Oxford, 2010)Google Scholar; or Royle, Edward, Radicals, Secularists and Republicans: Popular Freethought in Britain, 1866–1915 (Manchester, 1980)Google Scholar. The only works to my knowledge which mention Bradlaugh's use of polygenesis are a book and an article from Timothy Larsen, though in both cases only very briefly. See Larsen, Timothy, A People of One Book: The Bible and the Victorians (Oxford, 2011), 86–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Larsen, “The Book of Acts and the Origin of the Races in Evangelical Thought,” Victorian Review 37/2 (2011), 35–9.

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35 Richards, “‘Moral Anatomy’ of Robert Knox,” 404.

36 Knox, The Races of Men, 384.

37 Ibid., 581.

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39 Ibid., 477; Lonsdale hinted that Knox was sympathetic to deism: Lonsdale, Life and Writings of Knox, 407.

Ibid

40 Autonomos, “Who Are the Jews? (1),” National Reformer, 12 May 1867, 293–4; Autonomos, “Who Are the Jews? (2),” National Reformer, 19 May 1867, 314–15; Autonomos, “Who Are the Jews? (3),” National Reformer, 26 May 1867, 322–4.

41 The whole series is Autonomos, “Christian Filibusters in Africa (1),” National Reformer, 9 June 1867, 362–3; Autonomos, “Christian Filibusters in Africa (2),” National Reformer, 16 June 1867, 373; Autonomos, “Christian Filibusters in Africa (3),” National Reformer, 23 June 1867, 394–5; Autonomos, “Christian Filibusters in Africa (4),” National Reformer, 30 June 1867, 407; Autonomos, “Christian Filibusters in Africa (5),” National Reformer, 7 July 1867, 5–7; Autonomos, “Christian Filibusters in Africa (6),” National Reformer, 14 July 1867, 20–22; Autonomos, “Christian Filibusters in Africa (7),” National Reformer, 21 July 1867, 37–9; Autonomos, “Christian Filibusters in Africa (8),” National Reformer, 4 Aug. 1867, 69–71.

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44 Quoted in Lorimer, Douglas, Colour, Class, and the Victorians: English Attitudes to the Negro in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Leicester, 1978), 138.Google Scholar

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47 Driver, Felix, Geography Militant: Cultures of Exploration and Empire (Malden, MA, 2001), 99Google Scholar; Kennedy, Dane, The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World (Cambridge, MA and London, 2007), 169–70.Google Scholar

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54 “Heathen and Civilized,” Boston Investigator, 21 June 1865, 52.

55 G.E.H., “The Ethnological Society,” National Reformer, 24 Dec. 1865, 822–3, at 822.

56 “Modern Scientific Theories,” National Reformer, 24 March 1867, 177–8, at 177.

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76 Bradlaugh, Charles, Genesis: Its Authorship and Authenticity, 3rd edn (London, 1882).Google Scholar

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79 Bradlaugh's large library did include an early work by Tylor, Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization (1865), but not his later and more important work, Primitive Culture (1871). See Bradlaugh Bonner, Catalogue, 94.

80 See, for example, Ingersoll, Robert G., “The Gods” (1872), in The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, 12 vols. (New York, 1902), 1: 790.Google Scholar

81 Bradlaugh, Adam and Eve, 8.

82 Ibid., 4; see also Bradlaugh, Genesis, 238–9.

Ibid

83 Bradlaugh, Adam and Eve, 5.

84 Ibid., 6–7.

Ibid

85 Ibid., 7.

Ibid

86 Ibid., 1.

Ibid

87 Underwood, B. F., The Burgess–Underwood Debate: Commencing June 29, 1875, at Aylmer, Ontario, and Continuing Four Days (New York, 1876), 91Google Scholar; Ingersoll, Robert, “Some Mistakes of Moses” (lecture, 1879), in Ingersoll, Works, 2: 99100.Google Scholar

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89 Arthur Moss, B., “The Age of Man,” Truth Seeker 14/5 (1887), 70–71, at 70.Google Scholar

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Ibid

98 Bradlaugh, Man; Whence and How?, 80.

99 Ibid., 65.

Ibid

100 Ibid., 87.

Ibid

101 Ibid., 92.

Ibid

102 Bradlaugh, Anthropology, Lecture 1, 5.

103 Ibid., Lecture 4, 4.

Ibid

104 See Bowler, Peter, Evolution: The History of an Idea, 25th-anniversary edn (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2009), chap. 9.Google Scholar

105 Bradlaugh, Anthropology, Lecture 1, 8.

106 Ibid., Lecture 4, 5.

Ibid

107 Ibid., Lecture 2, 4.

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108 Ibid., Lecture 2, 3.

Ibid

109 Ibid., Lecture 3, 7.

Ibid

110 Ibid., Lecture 3, 8.

Ibid

111 Ibid., Lecture 4, 6.

Ibid

112 Bradlaugh, Charles, “Jottings Out of Session,” National Reformer, 10 Oct. 1880, 270.Google Scholar

113 See Part Five of Arthur Nethercot, H., The First Five Lives of Annie Besant (London, 1961).Google Scholar

114 Arthur Nethercot, H., The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant (London, 1963)Google Scholar; see also Bevir, Mark, “In Opposition to the Raj: Annie Besant and the Dialectic of Empire,” History of Political Thought 19/1 (1998), 6177.Google Scholar

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116 Speech on India at Town Hall, Northampton, 19 Nov. 1883, in Charles Bradlaugh, Speeches (London, 1890), 42.

117 Ibid., 43.

Ibid

118 Ibid., 45.

Ibid

119 Bradlaugh, Charles, “England in Asia,” National Reformer, 29 June 1890, 402.Google Scholar

120 “Mr. Bradlaugh and India,” National Reformer, 5 Jan. 1890, 12.

121 Indian National Congress speech, Bombay, 29 Dec. 1889, in Bradlaugh, Speeches, 152.

122 Ibid., 153.

Ibid

123 “Departure from Bombay,” National Reformer, 2 Feb. 1890, 76.

124 Tribe, President Charles Bradlaugh, 289.

125 Stocking, George W. Jr, Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology, new edn (Chicago and London, 1982), 53–4.Google Scholar

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