Back to Christian History & Biography
Member Login:    


My Account | About Us | Forgot password?

 

CH Blog | This Week in Christian History | Ask the Expert | CH Store
 

Related Channels
Christianity Today magazine
Books & Culture





Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Activists > William Wilberforce


William Wilberforce
Antislavery politician
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

 1 of 2


William Wilberforce
ADVERTISEMENT

"So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the [slave] trade's wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition."

In the late 1700s, when William Wilberforce was a teenager, English traders raided the African coast on the Gulf of Guinea, captured between 35,000 and 50,000 Africans a year, shipped them across the Atlantic, and sold them into slavery. It was a profitable business that many powerful people had become dependent upon. One publicist for the West Indies trade wrote, "The impossibility of doing without slaves in the West Indies will always prevent this traffic being dropped. The necessity, the absolute necessity, then, of carrying it on, must, since there is no other, be its excuse."

By the late 1700s, the economics of slavery were so entrenched that only a handful of people thought anything could be done about it. That handful included William Wilberforce.

Taking on a purpose

This would have surprised those who knew Wilberforce as a young man. He grew up surrounded by wecaptionh. He was a native of Hull and educated at St. John's College at Cambridge. But he wasn't a serious student. He later reflected, "As much pains were taken to make me idle as were ever taken to make me studious." A neighbor at Cambridge added, "When he [Wilberforce] returned late in the evening to his rooms, he would summon me to join him…. He was so winning and amusing that I often sat up half the night with him, much to the detriment of my attendance at lectures the next day."

Timeline

1735

George Whitefield converted

1738

John & Charles Wesley's evangelical conversions

1742

First production of Handel's Messiah

1759

William Wilberforce born

1833

William Wilberforce dies

1840

David Livingstone sails for Africa

Yet Wilberforce had political ambitions and, with his connections, managed to win election to Parliament in 1780, where he formed a lasting friendship with William Pitt, the future prime minister. But he later admitted, "The first years in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object."

But he began to reflect deeply on his life, which led to a period of intense sorrow. "I am sure that no human creature could suffer more than I did for some months," he later wrote. His unnatural gloom lifted on Easter 1786, "amidst the general chorus with which all nature seems on such a morning to be swelling the song of praise and thanksgiving." He had experienced a spiritual rebirth.

He abstained from alcohol and practiced rigorous self-examination as befit, he believed, a "serious" Christian. He abhorred the socializing that went along with politicking. He worried about "the temptations at the table," the endless dinner parties, which he thought were full of vain and useless conversation: "[They] disqualify me for every useful purpose in life, waste my time, impair my health, fill my mind with thoughts of resistance before and self-condemnation afterwards."

He began to see his life's purpose: "My walk is a public one," he wrote in his diary. "My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me."

In particular, two causes caught his attention. First, under the influence of Thomas Clarkson, he became absorbed with the issue of slavery. Later he wrote, "So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the trade's wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition."




Browse More ChristianHistory.net
Home  |  Browse by Topic  |  Browse by Period  |  The Past in the Present  |  Books & Resources

   RSS Feed   RSS Help








share this pageshare this page