186 years ago today, on July 26, 1833, the Emancipation Act passed its third reading in the House of Commons, ensuring the end of slavery in the British Empire. It was authored by William Wilberforce.
August 24 marks the birthday of British statesman and England’s greatest abolitionist William Wilberforce. He was a man well known to the Framing Fathers of the American Revolution and became in his day, not just a politician, philanthropist, and abolitionist, but also a writer of such popularity (in his own day) as C.S. Lewis was in the 20th century. As I mentioned in my first article on the History of Amazing Grace, Wilberforce’s mentor was the song’s author John Newton. The popular film “Amazing Grace” tells, in brief, the life of Wilberforce.
William Wilberforce was born in 1759 to privilege and wealth in 18th century England and though physically challenged, worked for nearly 20 years to push through Parliament a bill for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire almost 200 years ago.
Born in Hull in Yorkshire, upon his father’s death in 1768 he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Wimbledon. While there, he came into contact with the great evangelist George Whitefield. He was also influenced by the former slave-trading sea captain, pastor John Newton. However, his mother and grandfather wanted him away from Newton’s influence, which they thought was too evangelical and “Methodist,” much too enthusiastic for respectable Anglicans, and returned him to Hull.
Following private school, Wilberforce took both his B.A. and M.A. at St. John’s College in Cambridge where he began a lasting friendship with the future Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger. But Wilberforce was not a serious student, and he was given to late nights of drinking, gambling, and card playing. At the youngest age at which one could be elected, at 21 he was elected to Parliament. He was noted for his charm and eloquence; indeed, his phenomenal rhetorical skill caused the young Prime Minister William Pitt later to challenge Wilberforce with a considerable undertaking — abolition.
The abolitionist Thomas Clarkson influenced Wilberforce to become an activist on the issue of slavery, and together they…