Many people believe the abolition of slavery began in the United States during the American Civil War of the 1860s. In fact, the abolitionist movement began decades earlier in the British Empire under the unrelenting leadership of one man, William Wilberforce.
William Wilberforce was born in 1759 in the English city of Kingston-upon-Hull. He was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and was elected as Hull’s Member of Parliament in 1780.
Wilberforce became a Christian in 1784. His salvation drove him to consider deeply his position in politics, even to the point that he considered leaving politics to become a minister. He eventually concluded that God had called him to public office to further causes that were in line with biblical truth. The most famous of these causes was his commitment to abolish slavery. Wilberforce’s salvation, therefore, had a profound influence on the history and way of life in the United Kingdom, the British Empire, and indirectly even the United States and its territories.
The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in May 1787. Support for the movement was nationwide but was particularly strong in Northern England.
In 1788 one hundred petitions attacking the slave trade went before the House of Commons, and in 1792 that political body voted in favor of the principle of abolition, 230 votes to 85. However, upon seeing the extreme radicalism of the French Revolution, the Commons reversed the 1792 vote in 1793 hoping to avoid such a revolution in the British Empire.
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