William Wilberforce and the Abolition of the Slave Trade:

Posted: December 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

William Wilberforce regarded slavery as a national
crime for which all Englishmen were responsible. In
1818 he wrote in his diary, “In the Scripture, no national
crime is condemned so frequently and few so strongly
as oppression and cruelty, and the not using our best
endeavors to deliver our fellow-creatures from them.”
Wilberforce and his friends engaged in an antislavery
public opinion campaign unprecedented in English
history. In 1814 they gathered one million signatures,
one-tenth of the population, on 800 petitions, which
they delivered to the House of Commons.
The English ruling classes viewed abolitionists as
radical and dangerous, similar to French revolutionaries
of the day.
Antislavery bills of one sort or another were defeated in
Parliament for 11 consecutive years before the act
abolishing the slave trade was passed in 1807.
Slave ship crews were often treated more cruelly than
slaves. Slaves brought a profit, so there was incentive
to ensure they were adequately fed and cared for. In
fact, the death rate for crews was higher than that for
slaves.
Wilberforce was one of five members of the Clapham
Sect (the aristocratic circle of Christian activists) who
held seats in the House of Commons who never lost a
parliamentary election.
In the summer of 1833, Parliament passed the second
reading of the Emancipation Act, ensuring the end of
slavery in the British Empire. Three days later,
Wilberforce died.
Evangelical abolitionists have received high praise from
secular commentators. For example, nineteenth-century
historian W. E. H. Lecky said, “The unweary,
unostentatious, and inglorious crusade of England
against slavery may probably be regarded as among
the three or four perfectly virtuous pages comprised in
the history of nations.”
Slavery wasn’t the only social issue that troubled
nineteenth-century British Christians. Between 1780
and 1844 they founded at least 223 national religious,
moral, educational, and philanthropic institutions and
societies to alleviate child abuse, poverty, illiteracy, and
other social ills.
Among the religious and benevolent societies for
impoverished or exploited women were
Forlorn Females Fund of Mercy;
Maritime Female Penitent Refuge for Poor, Degraded
Females;
Society for Returning Young Women to Their Friends in
the Country;
Friendly Female Society for the Relief of Poor, Infirm,
Aged Widows, and Single Women of Good Character
Who Have Seen Better Days.
Books about discouraging social problems became best
sellers. For example, in In Darkest England and the Way
Out (1890), Salvation Army founder William Booth
described England’s “submerged tenth,” trapped in vice,
poverty, and godlessness, and explained his plan to end
unemployment. The book sold one million copies.
In their efforts to reform society, many British
evangelicals criticized such amusements as dancing,
hunting, playing cards, theater going, reading novels,
and even Handel’s oratorios.
Some clergy in Victorian Britain gained notoriety for
their political activism. Francis Close was called the
“Evangelical Pope of Cheltenham” for his attacks on
local horse racing. George S. Bull, an evangelical
pastor in Yorkshire, was so active in the campaign to
reduce children’s work hours that he was labeled “The
Ten-Hours Parson.”
The evangelical faith and social concern that so
permeated nineteenth-century England led French
historian Elie Halevy to say evangelicalism made
possible “the extraordinary stability which English
society was destined to enjoy throughout a period of
revolution and crises.”

posted by Hari Krish

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