William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce (August 24, 1759 - July 29, 1833) was an evangelical Protestant who led the fight against the British slave trade, finally achieving its suppression in 1807.

Born in Kingston upon Hull in 1759 and educated at St John's College, Cambridge, Wilberforce was a close friend of William Pitt the Younger and became MP for his home town in 1780. It was in about 1784, while travelling in Europe, that he underwent a religious conversion and began his mission, supported by the Quakers, to abolish the slave trade. After 1807, he continued to fight for the complete emancipation of slaves in the British Empire.

His power in parliament was always limited to only a few MPs, but in the precarious situtation of the time, this group, known as both "the saints" and the Clapham Sect, often held the deciding vote in parliament. During his life Wilberforce also took up a number of other causes, such as humanizing the penal system and aiding the destitute. The effort he put into the struggle caused his health to break down, and he resigned from Parliament in 1825 as a result. He died in 1833 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

The 17th century house in which he was born is today Wilberforce House Museum in Kingston upon Hull (http://www.hullcc.gov.uk/museums/wilberforce/index.php).


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