12–18 November 2018

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce (1759–1833) was a politician, philanthropist, and slavery abolitionist.

In September 1780, at 21, he was elected MP for Hull. He attended St John’s College, Cambridge and attained his BA in 1781 and his MA in 1788.

Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish the slave trade started in 1787. He viewed this as a campaign of morality and justice and in 1789 he launched the parliamentary campaign that dominated his life for the next 18 years. In January 1790, Wilberforce secured a select committee to examine evidence on the slave trade.

His first abolition bill was moved in the House of Commons in 1791 and was defeated on 20 April with 163 votes to 88. The second abolition bill was moved on 2 April 1792, this was watered down to a gradual abolition and this passed with 230 votes to 85. The gradual nature of this bill meant the ending of the slave trade would take some time.

These defeats would happen again and again for over a decade until January 1807 when the Slave Trade Bill was introduced into the House of Lords. This bill called for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, but did not abolish slavery. The bill passed in the House of Commons by 283 votes to 16. It received royal assent on 25 March 1807.

In July 1833 Wilberforce became ill with Influenza. Late on 26 July 1833 he heard that the bill for the abolition of slavery had passed its third reading in the Commons, the culmination of his life’s work. He died in the morning of 29 July 1833. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography