William Wilberforce

"Great indeed are our opportunities; great also is our responsibility"

Interesting facts

1. William was a man of tremendous moral standing. As well as campaigning heavily for the abolition of slavery, he was a philanthropist who championed causes such as missionary work in India and the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone. He also helped found the Society for the Suppression of Vice and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). 

2. William was by no means the first to campaign for an end to slavery. British merchants had been involved in the trade since the fifteenth century and while people had long been repulsed by it, it was not until 1783 that the first petition went to Parliament calling for abolition. The early petitioners were Quakers and from this petition their campaign quickly gained momentum. William met the prominent Quaker Thomas Clarkson in 1787 and became horrified by what he learnt of the slave trade. On the advice of his friend, the future Prime Minister William Pitt, William decided to pursue the subject of abolition in his Parliamentary career.

3. Ill health and a deteriorating situation in France set back initial attempts by William to pass bills in Parliament. During this time, William and others became involved in the establishment of the Free Colony in Sierra Leone. Their utopian vision involved the emancipation of slaves from the Americas as well as some blacks and whites from Britain living in an equal society. The reality was far harsher with disease, war and near economic and social collapse. Britain would in time step in to intervene and make Sierra Leone a colony of the British Empire.  

4. With continued widespread support for a abolition, William made another attempt to ban slavery through Parliament suffering a narrow defeat. An attempt in 1794 changed tack by attempting to ban British ships from carrying slaves. Again it was defeated. The battle of attrition would continue until 1804 when Napoleon Bonaparte stated his intention to bring slavery back into the French colonies. (It had been absent since the 1788 French Revolution). Pro-slavery was now a watchword for Pro-Napoleon which would have been tantamount to sacrilege in Britain during this time. On the 28th of February 1807 a bill was passed that overwhelmingly abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. William was hailed by MP's in Parliament. 

5. William was a believer in a strong civic society and gave much of his time to help the needy. Being an unabashed evangelical he was also strongly critical of the vices of the poor.