Author’s Name Professor’s Name Class Name 25 September 2009 William Wilberforce and the Anti-Slave Trade Movement William Wilberforce was by far one of the greatest pioneers in the anti-slave trade movement of the late 1700s to early 1800s that led to the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. This act was the greatest achievement of Wilberforce’s political career that lasted for over three decades as he continually persevered to promote the abolition of slave trade. Wilberforce and his many allies faced a number of disappointments and extreme opposition that led to public bereavement and jeering at their expense.
There were times that things were so difficult and quite unbearable that Wilberforce questioned his purpose and his task and wanted to give up to pursue other endeavors. Despite all of the opposition and the doubts, Wilberforce held true to his beliefs and used his courage and determination to continue to fight for what he believed was right, up until his untimely death.
William Wilberforce was born on August 24, 1759 and grew up in Kingston upon Hill, Yorkshire. When he became of age, he was sent to St.
Johns College in Cambridge to earn his education, but he typically spent his time going out late and night and skipping his classes the next morning. Wilberforce always had strong ambitions to become involved in the politics of the time, so he ran for office in Parliament and was elected to a seat in 1780. Here, he became very close friends with William Pitt who would later become the Prime Minister of England. Besides being elected to office there was very little accomplished during this time period that held any major significance in Wilberforce’s life.
He even entered a state of mild depression and began questioning his life and his purpose in it before eventually experiencing a spiritual rebirth around 1785. At this point he became a stout Christian Evangelist and worked to improve the quality of life around him and was determined to take up causes in his two loves in life: politics and religion. In November of 1786, Sir Charles Middleton contacted Wilberforce to suggest that he take up the task of bringing the abolition of trade to the table in Parliament. With the help of Middleton and a former classmate from St.
Joseph’s named Thomas Clarkson helped encourage Wilberforce to engage in the abolition movement. William Wilberforce was quoted as saying this about the choice he made to seek to abolish the slave trade: “So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the [slave] trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition” (ChristianityToday. com, 2008, par. 1). Within the first few years, Wilberforce fought hard with his doubts and worries about the tough task at hand.
It was not until his friends the new Prime Minister William Pitt and John Newton encouraged him to fulfill his destiny and do God’s work in the political arena that William Wilberforce delivered his first speech to Parliament on the topic of slavery abolition on May 12, 1789 (“William Wilberforce”, 2006, par. 5). Parliament delivered much opposition to his multiple bills and his position. In fact, the first 12 bills that were proposed by Wilberforce in Parliament were voted down by a vast majority of the members of Parliament (Britannia. com, 1999, par. 5).
This led to a period of time where Wilberforce needed more support than he could muster on his own to give him the strength to carry on. John Newton remained a very strong source for courage and determination along the entire process as Wilberforce continued to approach Parliament every year. Newton had been a slave ship captain for many years until he retired from the business. It was not until the abolition movement began to pick up speed and his friend, William Wilberforce, became the parliamentary spokesperson for the abolishment of slave trade that Newton ended his 34-year silence on the topic of slave trade.
He wrote many hymns, including “Amazing Grace” and also wrote pamphlets expressing the many horrors he witnessed aboard the slave ships he sailed. He gave Wilberforce a sense of strong Christian support for the many failures he would experience within the houses of Parliament. While Wilberforce experienced many deterring factors within Parliament and was faced with ridiculing opponents in society, he also faced another serious problem closer to home. For most of his entire life, Wilberforce was sick with hecaptionh that plagued him with a serious caugh, night sweats and serious fits of fever and restlessness.
He questioned many times whether it was worth continuing to ruin his health for such a cause. Each time he questioned, the urgings of Middleton, Newton and Pitt continued to see him through it all. His faith in God allowed him to have the strength and courage to fight for the millions of souls that sailed under tormenting circumstances and died. Almost 1. 9 million slaves are believed to have died while making the voyage from Africa to the West Indies for the slave trade (ChristianHistory. net, 2008, par. 3).
Still, Wilberforce maintained his determination to his cause, and his courage allowed him to return to Parliament every year for 26 years to continue to propose his bill for the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce and his allies finally experienced their victory in 1807 with the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. This act completely abolished the slave trade within the British Empire. However, this victory was not enough for William Wilberforce. He continued to go to Parliament every year for another 25 years to completely abolish slavery altogether.
In 1825, Wilberforce was stricken with extreme illness, caused mostly from his hecaptionh. He was bed-ridden for many years, but still maintained the strength to appear in front of Parliament every year to propose his new bill to abolish slavery completely. In 1830 the illness became so bad that Wilberforce stepped down from his seat in parliament to help recover his strength. Eventually, as he was on his death bed, he learned in 1832 that his bill to completely abolish slavery had enough votes to pass both houses of Parliament and become a law.
This law became known as the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. William Wilberforce died on July 29, 1833 at the age of 73 years old, just weeks before the bill was passed into law. The story of William Wilberforce and the abolition movement in Britain has been told and retold many times in many different mediums. Most recently, the poignant movie Amazing Grace told the story of Wilberforce and his allies as they fought through the tough times and the opposition in Parliament to pass their bill.
Regardless of how the story is told, William Wilberforce exerted much courage and determination to persevere during the tough times he experienced over his career in politics and his life doing God’s work. He was fortunate enough to have friends like John Newton and William Pitt to help encourage and support him in times of great peril and where he was ready to give up. The courage and determination of William Wilberforce led to the abolition of slave trade and the complete abolition of slavery within the British Empire and gained steam as the movement went towards the West into the United States.
Works Cited Carey, Bryccan. “William Wilberforce: biography and bibliography. ” Brycchan Carey – Home Page. 20 Sept. 2007. Web. 25 Sept. 2009. “William Wilberforce. ” Spartacus Educational – Home Page. 12 Oct. 2006. Web. 25 Sept. 2009. “William Wilberforce – Britannia Biographies. ” Britannia: British History and Travel. 1999. Web. 25 Sept. 2009. “William Wilberforce | Christian History. ” ChristianityToday. com | Magazines, News, Church Leadership & Bible Study. 08 Aug. 2008. Web. 25 Sept. 2009.
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