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Attempt an assessment of the part played by William Wilberforce in the abolition of slavery

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By the early 1700's Britain's position as the worlds foremost commercial power had become well established. One "...profitable and necessary branch of commerce" (V:pg.63) which had contributed to the achievement of this rank, was that of slave trading. During this period England's leadership of the trade was viewed as "...a symbol of the country's naval and commercial greatness"(V: pg.60) but, as the century continued and the Age of Enlightenment dawned, opinion radically altered. Growing numbers of British peoples now denounced slavery as the "...most monstrous outrage." (V: pg.60) and called for its abolition. At the forefront of the abolition movement was the independent Member of Parliament for Hull, William Wilberforce. He was a devout Evangelical, who used his political position as "...a platform for his religious views" (V: pg.54) and took up the cause of the Negro slaves "...when he was in his twenties and received the news of their freedom on his deathbed at the age of seventy-three."(V: pg.i) In order to assess the role of William Wilberforce in the abolition of slavery it is necessary to consider both the individual himself and the era in which he lived. ...read more.


In order to allow preparation for eventual emancipation and to improve the chances of success, the abolitionists concentrated on eliminating the business of trading in slaves which, they believed, would ultimately lead to the eradication of slavery as a whole.(II: pg.72) Wilberforce himself "...was heir to a hundred years of successful trading." (V: pg.3) and representative of the growing bourgeoisie who held power in Britain. He, like them, had gained his wealth and position through commerce. Wilberforce's use of economic argument, regarding the financial unsoundness of the slave trade, was therefore one which, in this era of industry and profit making, was assured of evoking discussion amongst those involved in the trade. The resources gained from slavery, combined with fears that its abolition would prove detrimental to British supremacy and advantageous to the French, were viewed as an essential and integral part of the continued success of the British Empire. Despite Wilberforce's campaign, "Commerce clinked its purse" (III: pg.211) and he lost the first of many parliamentary votes on abolition. Although grieved by this defeat Wilberforce continued to devote his immense talents to achieving abolition. He was renowned for his thoroughness in preparing his documentation and invested considerable effort "...analysing, checking and exposing opponent's evidence and preparing their own."(V: pg.93). ...read more.


(IX: pg.45). The British Parliament was further influenced by the numbers of countries that had already abolished the slave trade. Among these were the Danish, Dutch, American's and French. (VII: pg.247) Despite international condemnation of the slave trade, the decision taken by Britain in 1833 to abolish slavery was one of the "...great moments of human history" (V: pg.255) There were many able and enlightened men and women involved in the campaign for the abolition of slavery and no one individual can claim sole responsibility for its eventual success. William Wilberforce though, must surely be attributed with recognition considering his part in the abolition of the slave trade without which emancipation of the slaves would have been unthinkable. Wilberforce's role was extremely important and his religious resolve, eloquence and intelligence enabled him to influence the British public as well as many of the most powerful members of society. The abolition of slavery however, was eventually brought about as a result of numerous and complex inter-related factors. As stated by Patrick Richardson it was an amalgamation of changes in "Economic and political thought, strategic thinking, humanitarian attitudes and even cultural values" which brought about the demise of this "... most monstrous evil." (V; pg. 255). ...read more.

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