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William Wilberforce's Biography

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William Wilberforce was born on 24 August 1759 in Hull, England.

The 17th-century house in which Wilberforce was born is the Wilberforce House museum in Kingston upon Hull.

William Wilberforce was the son of a wealthy merchant who died when William was still young. He was taken into the guardianship of his uncle and aunt but was later returned to the care of his mother.

Wilberforce studied at Cambridge University where he became friends with the future Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger.

In 1780 Wilberforce became MP for Hull and in 1784 for Yorkshire.

In 1784-5 whilst on a tour overseas William Wilberforce was converted to evangelical Christianity and from 1788 together with the likes of Thomas Clarkson, Lady Middleton and Granville Sharp he campaigned against the slave trade.

In 1789, he made a famous Abolition speech to Parliament. As Brycchan Carey points out there was no official record in those days of parliamentary speeches so the extracts are open to interpretation.

Over the ensuing years Wilberforce introduced a series of Bills to parliament regarding the slave trade that saw their reception change considerably.

Initially even the House of Commons were set against him. Care reported how " ... his first bill, in 1791, was defeated by a landslide of 163 votes to 88 ... in 1805 the House of Commons finally passed a law that made it illegal for any British subject to transport slaves but the House of Lords blocked it."

Eventually the Lords backed the proposal and it became law on 25 March 1807.

The Bill ended the trade in slaves in British ships, but slavery continued in the British colonies.

However, William Wilberforce believed in a gradualist approach.

Wilberforce initially thought that "it would be wrong to emancipate (the slaves). To grant freedom to them immediately would be to insure not only their masters' ruin, but their own. They must (first) be trained and educated for freedom."

He was eventually persuaded otherwise, but retired from Parliament in 1825 due to illness.

It was the likes of Thomas Fowell Buxton MP who were mainly behind the Slavery Abolition Act, which was passed a month before William Wilberforce died on 29 July 1833.

It was this act that gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom, roughly 30 years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the United States.

William Wilberforce was also a founding member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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