What they will tell you:
- William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is one of the best known British abolitionists. He was a Parliamentarian, writer and social reformer.
- He was a close friend of William Pitt, the youngest Prime Minister in British history.
- Wilberforce campaigned for health care, educational and prison reform and legislation to prohibit the worst forms of child labour. However, his greatest political efforts concerned the abolition of the slave trade and slavery.
- In 1788-1789 he presented his Abolitionist Bill before the House of Commons for the first time. In a moving speech, he recited the horrific facts of slavery for three hours and ended with the words: “having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know”.
- Despite Wilberforce’s efforts the bill did not pass. Year after year, he re-introduced anti-slavery motions but to no avail. Finally, in 1807 the Abolition Bill was passed with 283 votes to 16, making the slave trade illegal on all British ships. It was an emotional day in Parliament and Wilberforce, having campaigned so strenuously, broke down and cried.
- However, despite this victory, slavery itself remained intact and Wilberforce soon turned his attention to the emancipation of slaves in the British colonies. In 1823, he published the influential pamphlet “Appeal on Behalf of the Negro Slaves”. It led to the formation of the Anti-Slavery Society, which headed the emancipation campaign.Wilberforce retired from the House of Commons in 1825 and leadership of the Parliamentary campaign passed to Thomas Fowell Buxton. The Emancipation Bill slowly gathered support and was approved on 26 July 1833. On that day, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire.
What they probably won’t tell you is that he was a:
- Even as the slavery issue dominated his personal and political life, Wilberforce found time to champion the cause of animal protection from the moment it first surfaced. He was present for and involved with every Parliamentary debate on cruelty issues, from the first failed proposal by Sir William Pultney in 1800 to the watershed breakthrough of Martin’s Act in 1822. Over those 22 years, moreover, Wilberforce remained faithful to the cause, against objections that the subject of cruelty to animals was not suited to the dignity of a legislature.
- He said “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”
What an awesome man 🙂