NPG 745; The House of Commons 1793-94 - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery


Wilberforce fought without resting, so devoted was he to this cause. From 1789, Wilberforce regularly introduced bills in Parliament to ban the Slave Trade. Those who were making fortunes from the trade fiercely opposed him, using all kinds of delaying tactics. The first time he introduced a bill, he lost the debate by 163 votes to 88. He became the target of tirades and death threats. But he never gave up.

Although Wilberforce reintroduced the Abolition Bill almost every year in the 1790’s, little progress was made. But he remained optimistic that one day, his cause would meet success.

Finally, on February 23, 1807, excitement grew in the House of Commons as Wilberforce’s motion was debated. Speech after speech spoke in favour of abolition. Wilberforce was lauded for his tireless work. The climax came when the Solicitor General Sir Samuel Romilly said that “Wilberforce would come home to ‘the bosom of his happy delighted family,’ able to lie down in peace because he had ‘preserved so many millions of his fellow creatures.’” The House rose to its feet, turned to Wilberforce and cheered while he sat with his head bowed and wept.

However, slavery itself was not abolished, and Wilberforce’s  resolve to end it never stopped. He was joined by like-minded Christian friends known as the ”Clapham Sect.” For twenty years they worked to turn the public and political leaders against the evils of slavery. Despite public opinion, Parliament still refused to ban slavery until parliamentary reform removed many of its supporters.

Wilberforce wrote one last petition. The debate lasted for three months. On July 26, 1833, the Abolition of Slavery bill passed its third reading. A messenger rushed to Wilberforce’s house to tell him that slavery in the British colonies would finally be abolished.

Just three days later, on July 29th, William Wilberforce died. [1]


[1], Wilberforce School

The Abolitionist, The Abolition Project,

This has been Part 9 of the series A LIFE WORTH LIVING. Read Part 10 – Wilberforce on ‘Purpose”