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William Wilberforce

From 1759
 to 1833

Born in the great northern seaport of Hull in 1759, William Wilberforce would one day lead the cause for the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom. The early death of his father forced young William to live with his uncle and aunt who had been influenced by both George Whitefield, an early Evangelical revivalist, and John Newton, an ex-slave trader and Evangelical convert.

Newton became a hero to Wilberforce and instilled in him a desire for Christ and a repulsion of the slave trade. William's mother, alarmed by her son's developing “Methodist leanings” rushed him off to boarding school and Cambridge University in an attempt to undermine his faith. Cambridge would enlighten his mind, but not entirely destroy his faith.

Wilberforce, who from an early age desired a career in politics, entered the House of Commons in 1780, at the age of twenty-one. Although young, he was a good parliamentary speaker with an exceptionally attractive voice that thrilled his listeners. While on a journey to the South of France, William underwent a second conversion, one which enlivened the faith of his youth. He sought out his old friend John Newton. Newton advised him to remain in politics, believing that God might have raised him up for that purpose.

Within two years Wilberforce became convinced that he must take up the cause of the slaves. Outraged at his nation's slave trade, he proposed a bill to Parliament in 1787, to abolish it. It first looked as if the bill would pass with out significant opposition. However, the pro-slavery forces rallied support and defeated Wilberforce's motion. Although dejected, Wilberforce continued his campaign despite the personal sacrifices it involved. Finally in 1807, William witnessed Parliament pass his bill of abolition by 267 votes. His triumph brought him immense prestige and enabled him to pursue other plans for improving the quality and morality of life in Great Britain. His efforts made goodness fashionable once again in England, and laid the foundations for the great moral revival of the Victorian period.