in 1759 to a life of privilege and wealth William Wilberforce had
an easy ride into the English Parliament, becoming the elected representative
for Kingston-upon-Hull at the age of 21. Eloquent, charming and cashed-up
he was a rich boy destined for a job on the front bench. Before him
lay a long, happy and interesting life as a ruling elite.
took an unexpected turn when Wilberforce converted to Christianity
after being spiked by the revivalist, John Wesley. With an awakened
moral compass he set about doing good works, in 1787 founding a society
with a charter for 'the reformation of public manners'. The trouble
began when it occured to Wilberforce a good place to start reforming
public manners might be the abolition of human slavery.
all accounts his 1788 parliamentary speech on the subject was a slam-dunk,
greeted by hearty cheers. Everyone agreed slavery was an abhorrent
practice. Meeting no opposition it seemed right to Wilberforce the
next step should be a bill banning it, put to the vote.
'big-tobacco' caught wind and immediately sent stooges around to stop
the crazy talk. What seemed a straight-forward proposition turned
into a chinese puzzle. Votes were delayed, proposals white anted,
expert testimony called for, amendments moved, sub committees formed.
Months turned into years.
economic forces marshalled against Wilberforce took pleasure in not
just frustrating his project but also flushing his career down the
toilet. Once seen as a future Prime Minister William Wilberforce was
transformed into a 'nutter'. Such was the force of malice aimed at
him even John Wesley advised Wilberforce, unless he had a direct telegram
from baby Jesus asking him to lead the fight against slavery, he should
give up before he became a grease stain.
Wilberforce persisted with the wacky idea that trading humans as slaves
was grade A bullshit.
cost Wilberforce his looks and youth but on July 26, 1833, forty five
years after he first spoke out, the Emancipation Bill abolishing slavery
(with heavy compensation going to the owners) received its final reading
Three days later Wilberforce died aged 74. By then he was back in
fashion so they buried him in Westminster Abbey.
only other thing I'd like to say about William Wilberforce was he
was an early adopter of the new technology of the day - the 'paper
back'. He was such a paper-back geek he had a jacket especially made
with pockets big enough carry one or two with him where ever he went.
forward thinker in all ways.