Abolitionist William Wilberforce was a British politician and philanthropist who dedicated his life to the cause. He was a genuinely pious man who played a significant part in the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in British culture. Wilberforce began his political career as an independent MP in the House of Commons. Wilberforce had a spiritual transformation while pursuing his political goals, transforming him from a devout Christian to an Evangelist. Wilberforce met anti-slavery activists for the first time in 1787. He took up the campaign and introduced the abolition of the slave trade in the House of Commons, despite the initial skepticism of his ability. And, as they say, the rest is history. Despite repeated failures, he continued to argue against the injustices meted out to slaves and to raise awareness about their deplorable circumstances. The Abolition of Slave Trade Act of 1807 was finally passed as a result of his tenacious attitude. Wilberforce made a huge contribution to transforming the political and social landscape during his life by preaching social responsibility and action. He battled for slave rights till the end, and only three days before his death, he witnessed the House of Commons passing the Abolition of Slavery Bill. The Bill was enacted in the House of Lords a month after his death, and it became the Abolition of Slavery Act.
Childhood and Adolescence
William Wilberforce, the only son of Robert Wilberforce and Elizabeth Bird, was born on August 24, 1759. His father was a well-to-do businessman. Wilberforce was sickly as a child and had terrible eyesight.
Hull Grammar School was where he received his early education. Wilberforce was placed under the custody of his uncle and aunt after his father died in 1768, and under their influence, he inclined towards evangelicalism.
In 1771, he returned to Hull and began his studies. As he went out to social events and lived a hedonistic lifestyle, his religious enthusiasm waned. He went to St John’s College, Cambridge, for his higher education.
In 1781, he received his B.A. degree, and in 1788, he received his M.A. degree.
The Career of William
Wilberforce pondered a career in politics while still in college. He was elected to the House of Commons for Kingston upon Hull in 1780.
He was a ‘no party guy’ in the House of Commons. Wilberforce backed both the Tory and Whig governments, usually in the interests of the ruling party. Fellow politicians chastised him for his inconsistency a result of this.
He earned a reputation as an influential speaker with a sharp sense of wit thanks to his exceptional oratory talents. Due to his eloquence and fluency, he became a well-known figure in the political world.
Wilberforce ran as a candidate for the county of Yorkshire in the 1784 general election. He was elected to the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Yorkshire on April 6, 1784.
Wilberforce experienced a spiritual conversion in 1785. He converted to evangelicalism and pledged to devote his life to God’s service. He vowed, unlike other preachers, to stay socially and politically involved, but with greater care and conscientiousness. He advocated for social and educational reform.
The antislavery committee rose to prominence in the 1780s. Rev James Ramsay, a surgeon, and preacher, provided thorough, first-hand information about slave life and the harsh treatment they received in his article. In 1786, Wilberforce became engaged in the humanitarian cause.
Before addressing the subject of the abolition of the slave trade in Parliament, he armed himself with extensive knowledge on the matter. During this time, he met Thomas Clarkson, a Cambridge alumnus, and formed a friendship with him that lasted nearly half a century.
Wilberforce was greatly influenced by Clarkson. He gave the latter firsthand information about the slave trade in England. Wilberforce was outraged by the working and living situation of slaves. In March 1787, he promised to move the abolition of the slave trade ahead in parliament.
His spiritual and social callings were both satisfied by his involvement in the abolitionist movement. It provided him the opportunity to serve God in public life while also putting an end to the unchristian commerce that was going on. He quickly became interested in two key tasks: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of moral standards.
Wilberforce made his first statement in the House of Commons on the subject of abolition on May 12, 1789. He passionately advocated for the plight of slaves and the deplorable conditions in which they were transported from Africa.
In his speech, he issued 12 resolutions that criticized the slave trade but not slavery. His address was snubbed by the opposition, who cried out against the proposal vehemently.
Wilberforce was the first to successfully introduce a parliamentary bill to prohibit the slave trade in 1791. However, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, it was defeated by 163 to 88 votes. The Bill marked the start of a long-running campaign that has endured the test of time.
He established the group ‘The Saints’ with Henry Thornton. The organization was dedicated to ending slavery and the slave trade. They fought pro-slavery proponents and contended that liberated slaves and Africans were capable of supporting a well-ordered society.
In 1792, he got involved in the formation of the first free colony of the blacks from the United Kingdom, Nova Scotia, and Jamaica, helping them financially. In the same year, he introduced an Abolition Bill for the second time.
With the onset of the war with France, the prohibition of the slave trade was pushed to the back burner as parliament focused on the country’s crisis. Despite the lack of enthusiasm, Wilberforce continued to introduce anti-slavery legislation throughout the 1790s.
A renewed interest in abolition arose around the turn of the nineteenth century. Wilberforce introduced a bill in the House of Commons in June 1804, which was successfully passed. It was, however, defeated in the House of Lords.
The Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, introduced Wilberforce’s Abolition Bill in the House of Lords in 1807.
When the law was passed by a huge margin in the Senate, it was sent to the House of Commons, where it was passed by 283 votes to 16 votes. Finally, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act obtained Royal Assent on March 25, 1807.
Wilberforce was a staunch proponent of education, believing that it was critical to reducing poverty in society. He collaborated with Hannah More, a reformer, to offer children regular instruction in reading, hygiene, and religion.
He was an active member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). He pushed Christians to go to India as missionaries. His health had deteriorated by 1812. He resigned from his Yorkshire seat to become an MP for the rotten borough of Bramber.
Though the Slave Trade Abolition Act was passed, it only ended the slave trade. Wilberforce then pledged to put an end to slavery in its current form. Despite his terrible condition, he joined the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery and lobbied hard.
Due to terrible illness, he finally resigned from his parliamentary seat in 1824. Despite his retirement from politics, he continued to work for the abolition of slavery. The Abolition of Slavery Bill was passed in the House of Commons on July 26, 1833, after a significant debate.
The Bill was passed in the House of Lords after Wilberforce’s death in 1833, resulting in the Slavery Abolition Act, which took effect in August 1834.
William’s Major Projects
Wilberforce’s life’s work culminated in his leadership of the abolitionist movement, which sought to abolish the slave trade in Britain. He worked for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade for the better part of his life as a humanitarian reformer.
Wilberforce achieved success in 1807 when the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act received Royal Assent after decades of campaigning. His second victory came just three days before his death when the House of Commons passed the Abolition of Slavery Bill.
Personal History and Legacy
On May 30, 1797, William Wilberforce married Barbara Ann Spooner, an evangelical Christian. The pair stayed faithful and supportive of one another throughout their marriage. They were blessed with six children.
Wilberforce was a sickly youngster with terrible eyesight as a child. His poor health plagued him throughout his life. He had been critically unwell in recent years. His vision was deteriorating as well.
He had a terrible case of influenza in 1833, from which he never fully recovered. Wilberforce died on July 29, 1833, just three days after the House of Commons passed the Bill for Abolition of Slavery.
His life and work have been celebrated all over the world. Various sites have statues, busts, and plaques depicting him. Churches within the Anglican Communion celebrated his work by introducing him in their liturgical calendars.
In Ohio, he has a university named after him. His Hull home has been turned into the country’s first slavery museum.
Estimated Net worth
William is one of the wealthiest politicians and one of the most well-known. William Wilberforce’s net worth is estimated to be $5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.