In 1785 William Wilberforce was a rising star in British politics. He had recently become a member of Parliament for the prestigious and powerful county of Yorkshire at the age of 24. He was in close company with Britain’s greatest political power players. He was wealthy and indulged in the leisure actives available at all the best London clubs. He had everything a man of his time could possibly want.
(However, upon being exposed to the evangelical fervor of Isaac Milner and John Newton, Wilberforce was faced with a crisis of conscience, and the more he saw of their faith “the more shallow and pointless his life seemed to be” As time progressed, Wilberforce realized the evil of slavery and the need to confront it).
Wilberforce’s closest friend saw in his newfound faith a powerful opportunity. In separate conversations, in letters, even at dinner parties, they encouraged Wilberforce to use his political and personal influence to stop the slave trade in the British Empire… Wilberforce finally conceded. Writing in 1787, he declared God Almighty had set before him the suppression of the Slave Trade.
Optimists at the time believed Wilberforce would accomplish his goal quickly. No one could have known that the battle would cost him the next 20 years of his life. But he kept fighting – year after year, campaign after campaign.
His enemies mocked him, insulted him, called him a traitor and lied about him the most public ways. His health, never good at the best of times, failed him repeatedly. Yet he pressed on, navigating the political system in London while his friends rallied other anti-slavery groups in the cities and village throughout Britain.
On Feb. 23, 1807, the Bill for the Abolition of Slave Trade was voted on by Parliament with 283 “ayes” and 16 “noes.”