The Abolition of the British Slave Trade
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” (Good Reads. ND) This statement made by politician and rights activist William Wilberforce summarises his strong view on the British slave trade suggesting that other members of Parliament simply ignored the human rights issue despite their knowledge of this. The abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom, 1807 and the events leading up to the abolition directly affected the rights and freedoms by granting slaves more rights and privileges. Despite the British Parliament’s reluctance to pass the bill that would abolish the slave trade, several key groups and individuals were significant and instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade. William Wilberforce’s dedication to the abolition of the slave trade and his influential young attitude greatly contributed to the abolition of the slave trade. In Addition, women affected the trade by drawing attention to the injustices of slavery.
Although there was much support for the abolition of the slave trade, there were several factions of Parliament that affected the trade and the period of time taken to pass the abolition bill. The House of Lord had stalled the act so that they could make their own inquiry. When the motion was presented in parliamentary sessions, the bill would only lose by narrow margins due to supporters leaving the chamber part way through the hearing (Driving Change Through Parliament, 2011). MP and lifelong abolitionist Stephan Lushington was quotes in an article written on BBC History stated that he, “Was greatly surprised to hear opponents of this bill enter cold calculations of loss and gain; for his part, he could never stop to balance imports and exports against justice and humanities” (Driving Change Through Parliament, 2011). This shows how Parliament did not necessarily care about the well being of the people being sold in the slave trade; they only cared about the cold calculations of what they would stand to lose if the trade was abolished. This is further corroborated in the article when it states, “Wilberforce introduced an abolition motion in most subsequence sessions, and these were occasionally lost by only narrow margins, including four votes in 1796, when several supporters had deserted the chamber for the pleasures of the Opera house.” (Driving Change Through Parliament. 2011), because the supporters of the bill left the chamber to go watch the Opera, although the supporters believed in the bill they did not find it as important or interesting as going to see the Opera leaving the motion was left without the support needed to pass the bill for the abolition of the slave trade, making it increasingly difficult for the motion to pass. British parliament’s relevance to the abolition of the slave trade being passed it was the work of several key groups and individuals that made significant and instrumental effects on the anti-slavery motion.
William Wilberforce’s was a Member of Parliament, a committed Christian and a vanguard in the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. His efforts between 1793 and 1807 were the driving force behind the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain. This then led to the emancipation of the slaves in 1833, the year of Wilberforce’s death (William Wilberforce, 2011). Wilberforce introduced a bill to abolish slave labour every year for more than a decade and in 1792 the House of Commons voted to abolish the slave trade; however the bill was not passed in the House of Lords (William Wilberforce. 2011). The bill finally passed in 1807 however, Wilberforce did not live to see the emancipation of slaves from their owners in 1833. However, he was instrumental in the abolition. This is corroborated by his address to the freeholders and inhabitants in Yorkshire about the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain, stating that,
References: BBC History (2012). William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833). Retrieved October 14 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/wilberforce_william.shtml
Farrell, S. (2011). Driving Change Through Parliament. Retrieved October 14 2012,
Hochschild, A. (2011). William Wilberforce: The Real Abolitionist? Retrieved October 14 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/abolition/william_wilberforce_article_01.shtml
National Archives (2012)
Parliament.uk (2012). The First Parliamentary Debates. Retrieved November 2 2012, http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/tradeindustry/slavetrade/overview/the-first-parliamentary-debates/
Princeton (2012). Title. Retrieved October 14 2012, http://libguides.princeton.du/content.php?pid=13681&sid-98831
Wilberforce, W. (1807). Letter on the abolition of the slave trade: Addressed to the Freeholders and inhabitants of Yorkshire. London: Luke Hansard & Sons.
Wollstonecraft, M. (1792). Vindication of the Rights of Women. Boston: Peter Edes.
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