1833 —Abolitionist, William Wilberforce, Dies

William Wilberforce by Karl Anton Hickel, c. 1794

On this day, 29th July, 1833, Africa, Britain and the world of Pan-Africanism mourned the passing of William Wilberforce. Born in the early hours of August 24, 1759 in Hull, Yorkshire, England. He grew up to become a British politician and philanthropist who from 1787 was prominent in the struggle for, and abolishment of the inhuman and heinous slave trade and slavery outside the shores of Britain.

He studied in St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he befriended William Pitt, who later in life became a Prime Minister. Both, Pitt and Wilberforce, watched the House of Commons debates gallery frequently. In 1780, William became a parliamentarian for Hull at the age of twenty-one while he was a student. William Wilberforce began to push for parliamentary reforms and Roman Catholic political emancipation of which he acquired a reputation of radicalism.

Wilberforce by birth was not a Christian, and so his abolitionism stemmed from evangelical Christianity as a result of his convertion in 1784-85. His spiritual father John Newton, was a repented slave trader himself. In 1787, Wilberforce founded two organizations. The Proclamation of Society for the reformation of manners and the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade commonly know as the Anti-Slavery Society.

“Am I Not A Man And A Brother?” Medallion created as part of anti-slavery campaign by Josiah Wedgwood, 1787

He and his cohorts Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp, Henry Thornton, Charles Grant, Edward James, Zachary Macaulay and James Stephen were formally called the Saints, which later changed to Clapham Sect, making Wilberforce their leader.

In the house of Commons, Wilberforce sponsored the Anti-Slavery legislation by introducing 12 resolutions against slave trade, giving the most eloquent speeches ever to be delivered in the house. The resolution which was supported by his friend and the Prime minister at the time in the person of William Pitt, Charles Fox and Edmund Burke did not see the light of day and so was postponed to the next session of parliament.

In 1791, the motion was filed again to parliament but, unfortunately, lost on 163 as against 88 votes. This did not in anyway make him give up. He filed a motion to the house when a group of people signed a petition in support of the legislation to abolish slave trade. However, a compromise supported by Home Secretary, Henry Dundas, called for the gradual abolition of slave trade to the disappointment of Wilberforce and his followers. He finally achieved his aim and objective when he won 283 as against 16 votes to pass a bill sought to abolish slave trade in the British West indies. It finally became law on March 25th.


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