My Heroes – William Wilberforce

ImageI have been thinking of people, current or historical, who have made a real impact and helped to make the world a better place. The first one to spring to mind is William Wilberforce who guided the anti-slavery legislation through the British Parliament.

Not that he did it all alone. Many campaigners worked tirelessly to change the mind of the British people to the point when they said with a loud voice, “This is no longer acceptable, the law must be changed”.

The Slave Trade

The first step was to abolish the iniquitous slave trade. A “golden triangle” of trade existed between Europe, Africa and The Americas. Ships would set sail with cheap trinkets that would be bartered for slaves in Africa. They would then be shipped in appalling conditions across the Atlantic to America. These would then be auctioned off and the ships loaded with goods bound for Europe. This was a lucrative trade and vast fortunes were made.

The first attempt to bring the matter before parliament was a dismal failure. The vested interests against Wilberforce were powerful. “If we were to stop the trade the French would fill the gap”, people said. (Sounds familiar? The same argument has been used about arms trade!)

Leaflets were produced with diagrams showing the layout of the slaves on the ships. Gradually a great ground swell of public opinion influenced the politicians and Wilberforce was able to able to bring the matter again before parliament with the result that the slave trade was abolished.

Freedom for slaves throughout the British Empire.

The first battle was won. Now Wilberforce and his fellow abolitionists set their sites on the nothing short of full abolition of slavery. It was a long battle, but finally parliament passed a law making slavery illegal throughout the British Empire and setting free many thousands of slaves.

The final battle was won in the last 3 days of Wilberforce’s life. He finally saw the fulfillment of his dream and his life-time’s work. We can only imagine the emotion and joy he felt and he was able to die at peace.

Wilberforce is one of my heroes because he was not afraid to put his Christian faith into action and take on insuperable vested interests to right an enormous wrong. He was a man of enormous vision who was able to see a different future in spite of thousands of years of history.

Are we able to see a better world in our generation and take action to see the injustices in our world overthrown just as Wilberforce did in his day?

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

9 thoughts on “My Heroes – William Wilberforce”

  1. Thanks for visiting my website. When I read yours it reminds me of what I often think as I survey our modern world: ‘Enough is enough!!’ I cry.


  2. Absolutely George. if I may I’ll send you the review I did on William Wilberforce as part of my “Christian Traditions” module at college. We were asked to pick out one person and one event (in my case in the Georgian and Victorian periods) which were significant in the development of Christian thought and their legacy for the church.

    As you’ll have gathered, Wilberforce (along with Lord Shaftesbury) is one of my heroes of faith, with a legacy stretching down to Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu and beyond.


    1. Alan
      Yes please send me your review. I have only posted an outline – so much more could be said. The other people on your list looks very much like my list too! A lot to live up to!


  3. One of my heroes too, George. When visiting my grandparents in Hull as a child, my parents always used to take me to the Wilberforce Museum. I agree with Simon’s comment. Will future generations look back on our casual tolerance of things destructive to life (military adventurism, abortion, euthanasia, poverty, sex trafficking) and be appalled? Will they wonder what on earth we were thinking of?


  4. Hi George, I like your comment about the same argument that is still used for the arms trade. I wonder what other current equivalent injustice’s there are today that we tolerate in the West. Obviously people trafficking, poverty but are there some others right under our nose that we put up with but in 100 years time will be banned? It would be interesting to see what people come up with.


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