William Wilberforce

william.sandy..jpg“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow–creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”
- William Wilberforce
William was not only an abolitionist, but he also supported many other areas of justice (Stevens). He tried to abolish slavery for many years. Although it took him many times to go to the House of Commons to stop slavery, he taught many people that when people really want something, they go after it and try as many times as they need to, but they never give up. He spent almost his whole life trying to pass the Abolition Bill, but at the end it was worth it because he accomplished his goal even when it seemed like he could not. Although Wilberforce did not end slavery all at once, he did end it in the British Empire, which slowly made it end in other areas too. His hard work and dedication paid off and was the beginning of slaves recovering the freedom they had lost.


William Wilberforce was born in Kingston upon Hull on August 24, 1759 (Simkin). Wilberforce was born into a prosperous family (Pettinger). Wilberforce was Robert Wilberforce and Elizabeth Bird’s only son, but they had three daughters (Stevens and Simkin). Sadly, two of them died, one at the age of eight and the other at the age of fourteen, only Sarah lived to grow older (Stevens). Wilberforce’s father was an affluent merchant, but his father died when he was nine. Following his father’s death, his mother became ill and Wilberforce was sent to live with his aunt and uncle while she recovered (Snapp). They lived in London (Pettinger) and Wilberforce was given early religious training (Stevens), which made himbecome
influenced by his aunt to evangelicalism (Simkin). As soon as his mother recovered and she discovered the evangelical influences on him, his grandmother and mother then brought him back to Hull (Simkin). When he returned back home his mother stopped him form communication with his aunt and uncle, but Wilberforce wrote letters to them behind his mother’s back (Stevens).

Following the deaths of his grandfather in 1776 and his uncle in 1777, he went to St John’s College, Cambridge University at age eighteen (Pettinger). “At Cambridge, where he met William Pitt, the Younger, future prime minister” (Pettinger) and they became very good friends. William Pitt became one of the most loyal supporters of Wilberforce. His grandfather and cousin encouraged him to join or look into parliament (Stevens). Wilberforce took their advice and he chose to seek a political career. After he graduated from the university he was uninterested in the family business (Simkin). Presently after graduation, he was elected for Parliament (Snapp). Wilberforce traveled to Europe with his mother and sister, Sarah, after four years in Parliament. His religious compulsion returned during his voyage in Europe. An evangelical book inspired him to have a religious lifestyle. Later in 1784, he converted Evangelical Christian. His religion was really important to him because he became a devoted Christian for the rest of his and changed his perspective in every day life. His personal life became influenced by his religious insights (Pettinger).

At age thirty-seven he met Barbara Spooner, age twenty, and he fell in love with her (Stevens). He fell so in love with her that within eight days of meeting Barbara he proposed to her (Snapp). Barbara felt the same way for Wilberforce so she accepted and they got married within two months (Snapp). He married in May 30, 1797 to Barbara Ann Spooner. After ten years of being together they had six children (Pettinger). Later, Wilberforce’s health worsened and he died in July 29, 1833.

Personality Traits

Wilberforce was a frail child, but despite that he always showed compassion to others (Stevens). When he went to college he had many friends and lived a life of partying. Wilberforce was also a good entertainer, sang nicely, and was good at keeping conversations. He was not the most foremost student, but he was admired and popular (Pettinger). During college, he also had dinner parties in his room and made acquaintances with future leaders in England (Stevens). Wilberforce was fit for parliament because of “his oratorical skills, outgoing personality, and logical thinking” (Snapp). When he began to have more interest in the bible, he undertook a conversion (Stevens). When he met Barbara they both shared the same religion. Once they got married and had kids he was very dedicated to his wife and children. Wilberforce emphasized the importance of religion and he lived an untroubled life (Snapp and Pettinger).

At age 21 Wilberforce spent £8,000 to win the parliament seat in Hull (Pettinger and Carey). After turning 25 he returned to parliament for the county seat of Yorkshire. In 1787, Wilberforce became the parliamentary of the abolition movement. Before he officially joined the abolition movement in 1794, hebegan his anti-slavery fight in 1789. One of the most important points of his life was when he had to compose his lecture to the House of Commons (Carey). Sadly, when he presented the bill he
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lost by 163 votes to 88 votes (Pettinger). After 2 years, in April 1791, the case returned and Wilberforce faced the House of Commons once again. With 75 against abolishing slave trade the bill fell once again. He tried once again on April 2, 1772, he brought the bill to the House of Commons. On his third attempt, the bill was finally passed by 230 to 85, which made the abolition law. In 1804 he resumed his role as parliamentary leader and he presented the abolition bill to parliament. After his first attempt in 1804, he presented the abolition bill again on January 1807 and then on February 23, 1807, parliament voted in approval for the abolition of slave trade. In March 25, 1807, the abolition bill became law, but slavery still persisted in British colonies. Later in 1812, his health worsened and he resigned his seat of Yorkshire. In 1815, “He campaigned openly for end to intuition of slavery” and he persistently address at public meetings and the House of Commons. Later in 1825, he resigned from the House of Commons because he had financial difficulties. In July 26, 1833, the emancipation Bill earned its final commons reading and slavery was abolished (Carey). Wilberforce ran the battle in the English Parliament to abolish slavery for 2 decades (Unti).

Historical Significance

“God almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”
-William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce was a member of the British parliament and an abolitionist (Stevens). At age 21 he was chosen to be in parliament for Kingston Upon Hill and he was the leader of the abolition for slaves (Stevens and Simkins). Wilberforce’s first accomplishment of being an abolitionist was the abolishment of slave trade. Then within 10 years slavery was exterminated in India. On December 18, 1865, the thirteenth amendment of liberating slaves in the United States was legislated. Not only
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did Wilberforce try to liberate slaves, but he “also worked for justice in other areas like prison reform, workers’ rights, prevention of cruelty to animals, and education” (Stevens). He also supported prosperous public campaigns that helped raise awareness of slaves’ conditions (Pettinger). For 44 years William was involved in the parliament (Snapp). Once Wilberforce discovered slavery was abolished in England he said, “Thank god, that I have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give 20 millions sterling for the Abolition of slavery” (Carey). Achieving equality for the slaves was Wilberforce’s top priority. It might have taken him many times to achieve his goal, but the important thing for him was that at the end he reached it. There were many times that his bill was rejected by the Parliament, but that never stopped him from trying once more. Wilberforce was persistent and he never chose to give up on his goal. He is a very good example because he shows others that people don’t always succeed in the
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first attempt. He shows others that it takes time and dedication in order to achieve dreams. Wilberforce took a lot of time out of his life and effort into giving the slaves justice. He cared more about the lives of others than his own life. He was a very loving man and put other’s needs before his needs. Many people after a couple times of rejection they give up, but Wilberforce never gave up and he shows what it takes to be successful. Wilberforce had excellent leadership skills and he was very determined. Although it took him a lot of time and patience, he never gave up because he was very dedicated to give salves equality. Wilberforce shows that everyone can be successful no matter how long it takes because at the end people can achieve their goals. Wilberforce was more than just an abolitionist or a part of the parliament. He was a hardworking man who went after what he wanted and what he knew was correct. He never let others stop him from reaching his dreams. Then at the end when he accomplished his dream, he knew that all the time and hard work paid off.


Carey, Brycchan. “William Wilberforce (1759-1833).” Brycchancarey. 20 Sept. 2007. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Pettinger, Tejvan. "Biography of William Wilberforce.” Biography Online. 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.

Simikin, John. "William Wilberforce.” Spartacus Educational. Sept 1997. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

Snapp, Byron. "A Review of Hero for Humanity:A Biography of William Wilberforce.” Chalecedon. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.

Stevens, Patsy. "William Wilberforce.” Patsy Stevens. 8 Apr. 2010. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Unti, Bernard. "Amazing Grace: The Work of William Wilberforce.” The Humane Society of the United States. Feb. 16, 2007. Web. Nov. 19, 2014.