William Wilberforce | Teen Ink

William Wilberforce

March 11, 2008
By Anonymous

Throughout the history of man, slavery has been a blight on humanity. The practice of slavery has no clear starting point, although documents as early as the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1760 BC) mention it as a wide spread practice. Since ancient history the slave trade grew tremendously and between 1450-1870 around 45 million slaves were shipped across the world. Many people ignored the harsh and unjust treatment of slaves because of the great profitability of this business. Consequently, people disregarded their consciences and didn’t begin to debate the morality or legality of the slave trade until the late 1700s. William Wilberforce rose as champion for the abolition of slavery during this time.

William Wilberforce was born in England in 1759 to Robert and Elizabeth Wilberforce. He came from a well established Yorkshire family whose rise in society had come as the result of making a fortune in the Baltic trade. When Wilberforce turned eight years old, his father died causing the loss of his childhood security and support. At the age of seventeen Wilberforce began to study at St. John's College, Cambridge, and though not committed to his studies, he managed to graduate with good grades. During this time he found himself drawn to politics and began to explore the possibilities of being elected to Parliament. Largely due to his immense finances he became a Member of Parliament in 1780. As he found out later, his position in Parliament helped him to carry out his future conviction to abolish the slave industry.

Soon after joining Parliament, William Wilberforce experienced a major conversion and became an evangelical Christian. This religious change in his life altered the way he viewed the world and especially his view on slavery. The start of his campaign against slavery began soon after his conversion when he came into contact with an anti-slavery group called the Testonites. They encouraged him to lead the anti-slavery movement in Parliament, which he eventually took up as life long passion. His first actions in Parliament in regard to slavery were cut short because of a severe illness that prevented him working for several months. After his sickness he presented the first Parliament Bill for the abolition of slavery which was unfortunately easily defeated. After several minor victories, a major breakthrough came for Wilberforce as the Slave Trade Act was passed through Parliament in March of 1807. This act abolished the slave trade in England, but didn’t outlaw slavery itself.

William Wilberforce continued to work with extreme devotion on the actual liberation of the slaves until his very last days. Only three days before he died he received news that the Abolition of Slavery Bill had passed through Parliament. Once passed, this bill became the Slavery Abolition Act which freed most of the slaves across the British Empire. Interestingly, William Wilberforce, after dedicating his life energy to ending slavery, actually died before the Abolition of Slavery Bill took effect and freed the slaves. Wilberforce died on August 3, 1833 and was buried in Westminster Abby by his friend and Prime Minister William Pitt.

When Wilberforce died, the precedent he set profoundly changed the whole world’s view on slavery. Slowly more and more nations turned against slavery and began the process of freeing slaves across the world. The life of William Wilberforce shows passion, courage and determination. Even thought he never saw the fruits of his work he diligently persevered in his campaign against slavery. He devoted his life and strength to a momentous task all the while not knowing he succeeded in his work. William Wilberforce set a great example for the entire world.

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