Was William Wilberforce the Most Important Reason for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807 and Slavery in 1823
William Wilberforce is the name that most people in Britain immediately associate with the fight against slavery. Although he favoured a more cautious and gradual eradication of slavery, he was a key representative of the anti-slave trade forces. Gracious, witty, and devoutly religious. Wilberforce has become a convenient national hero, with 20,000 people attending a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of his death. His house has been turned into a museum and his larger-than-life statue has a prominent place in Westminster Abbey. This demonstrates that he had a big influence on the people around him at the time.
Wilberforce certainly deserves some credit for the banning of the British slave trade in 1807 and the act that emancipated Britain’s slaves that was finally passed in 1833. His charm, personal kindness, reputation for integrity and deep conservatism on most issues gave him influence with his fellow MPs that few others in parliament had. But was the abolition of the slave trade and slavery primarily the work of this likeable, saintly man and his circle of similarly religious friends? Today, most historians see the long struggle to end the slave trade as much more complex and unruly than simply being the work of Wilberforce alone.
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Many people played an important part of the abolition of slavery the white middle class campaigners. Granville Sharp was a great campaigner against slavery. He took in a badly beaten slave and nursed him until he was fit and well but then his old master saw him and captured him wear he was to be shipped away to Jamaica as a slave. Granville Sharp took the slaves master to court and the judge the Lord Mayor of London said that he had not stolen anything so shouldn’t be made to go away. Sharp fought for many black people in court and saved many of them. Sharp didn’t manage to get slavery abolished but he started the campaign against slavery.
His court cases raised a lot of awareness in the public eyes and this could have made some people see how bad slavery really was so they could start to campaign against slavery with Granville Sharp. It was not only the white middle class campaigners who tried to abolish slavery the working class campaigned. In 1788 many petitions were sent to parliament demanding that the slave trade should be stopped. The petitions were sent from working class people from all over Britain. In the year 1788 10,000 working class people signed a petition; in 1792 support doubled to 20,000 people (there are 75,000 people in Manchester.
The working class people thought that slavery was wrong as it was a trade of human blood and that when Negroes were put in slavery it took away there dignity and pride, also they thought it was cruel to take them from there home (many slave campaigners rich or poor felt the same way). Big meetings were held wear slave campaigners could exchange ideas on how to get slavery abolished. In 1807 when the slave trade was finally abolished the petitions did not stop there aim was to make slavery illegal and also they wanted the existing slaves still in slavery to be freed.
I think the working class people did not raise as much awareness in the public than the middle-class they concentrated mostly on Parliament and the MP’s. Black people also rebelled against the slave trade. They wanted to be treated like normal servants and to earn a wage for there work. Many black people refused to be slaves and ran away. When slave owners went to court to get them back the legal position of slavery in Britain wasn’t clear. People knew that slaves could be kept in the West Indies and other parts of the British Empire, but if a slave was brought back to Britain (there was no law to say slavery was illegal or legal).
When slaves tried to claim there freedom the judges made different decisions every time. Granville Sharp held many of these cases on behalf of the slaves and soon most slaves were being set free. Owners soon knew it wasn’t worth the bother of trying to get there slaves against there slaves back. Plantation owners in the island of St Dominque did not like the idea of slaves having equal rights and liberty so they planned an alliance with Britain. The slaves knew this would mean the slave trade would continue.
The conditions in the St Dominque were worse than in the West Indies, the death rate was very high from the treatment and there living conditions. So in 1791 the slaves rebelled murdering there white owners and setting fire to the sugar crop. British troops tried to take over but the slaves soon overturned the British as well. Slavery was abolished in 1804 and the island soon declared that it was an independent state with a new name of Haiti. In the West Indian plantation owners lived in dread of the ideas from the slaves in Haiti spreading to there slaves. People in Britain who did not ant slavery to be banned used this example of what would happen if slaves in Britain were given equal rights. The slave trade eventually became too uneconomical to continue, this is because when the slaves were travelling on boat, the conditions were too horrific. As a result more of the slaves died than actually made it to the other side. This one the major factors of why the slave trade ended. William Wilberforce helped was a key campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade, but he is amongst many other campaigners. They all did the same thing, so I believe that he was important but many others deserve the same credit that he got.