Is Convincing the Public the Key to Changing Laws?

People who made their living directly or indirectly by the slave trade faced huge economic losses if Wilberforce could get Parliament to change the slave-trading law.

Slave-trading, and all that flowed from it, was a pillar of Britain’s economic strength. How did Wilberforce think he could topple such a pillar?

He, and his colleagues, mounted what today we would call a public-relations campaign. Their objective was to convince the public that slave-trading was wrong. The public could then put pressure on Members of Parliament to change the law.

To put the plan into effect, Thomas Clarkson gathered petitions signed by ordinary citizens who believed slave-trading was wrong. The Abolition Committee mobilized grass-roots forces to change the mind of an entire country.

Song writers composed lyrics and tunes to help people understand the evils of slavery, and to get them to change their own minds (if they supported it).

Select one 21st-century issue and compare the efforts of Wilberforce and his colleagues to mind-changing events and public-relations campaigns of today. How are the efforts the same? How are they different?

Do you think issues which polarize people today are similar to the slave-trading issues of the 18th and 19th centuries? Explain your answer.

Do polarizing issues often have an economic component about which people worry if the laws are changed? Should such an issue matter? Explain your answer.

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