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Bradlaugh was helped by his close friend and colleague Annie Besant – a pioneering feminist – and hundreds of active supporters His new national society emerged to play an important part in British politics. The NSS stood against religious privilege and demanded a secularised society, including an end to all political support for religious purposes and especially the disestablishment of the Church of England. Bradlaugh was a passionate republican who sought to bring about far-reaching changes by strictly constitutional means. This side of his work gave the secular movement a central position in English radical activity during the lean years of working-class history following the collapse of Chartism.

Bradlaugh's early struggles and his political and social work taught him the need for freedom of speech and publication. He was also a convinced neo-Malthusian who believed that grinding poverty could only be relieved if families were smaller. In 1877, when he and Annie Besant republished a pamphlet explaining contraceptive techniques, The Fruits of Philosophy, they were prosecuted and convicted. The two were arrested, tried and sentenced to six months' gaol, but appealed and won on a legal technicality. Although the trial divided secularists, it represented a crucial victory in the battle for free speech and a free press. The years after 1877 also saw a marked decline in the birth rate in the UK.