Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 22nd November 2017 | Manchester, UK

What You Didn’t Know About William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce was born in 1759 to a wealthy merchant family in the north eastern city of Hull, England. He became a Member of Parliament for Hull at the age of 21. This made him the youngest member of the House of Commons. Following this, he became the MP for the whole of Yorkshire. Wilberforce is generally recognised for his outstanding contribution to humanity. He devoted his political career to ending the slave trade. In 1807, the slave trade was abolished; however, this did not free those who were already slaves. Wilberforce continued his push to see a complete end and finally in 1833 the act was passed that gave freedom to all slaves in the British Empire.

William Wilberforce, What you didn't know

As significant as the end of the slave trade was, it means that Wilberforce’s other great achievements are often overlooked. In 1789 he made his religious conversion. He became a member of The Clapham Sect which associated itself with Evangelical Christianity.  The Clapham Sect was a group of more affluent people who thought it was their duty to help the poorer sections of society. John Newton once said to him, “God has raised you up for the good of the church and the good of the nation. God has brought you into public life and has a purpose for you”.  His Christian faith prompted him to become interested in social reform. His interest in social reforms had a wide spectrum. It ranged from factory conditions and limiting the number of hours children were required to work, to prison, education and healthcare reforms. Wilberforce used his family wealth and his large personal income for good causes. He donated generously to charity. He also cut the rents he charged tenants to live on his land, meaning people who may have been rendered homeless could afford to rent an area to reside.

 

Wilberforce died on 29th July 1833, merely a few months after his act to free slaves passed through the House of Commons. He is buried near his dear friend, the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. He lives on in history for his commitment to the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. Nonetheless, he deserves recognition for his sincere desire and goodwill to make society a better place. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, William Wilberforce made history.

 

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