SLAVE TRADE ABOLISHED - FEBRUARY 23, 1807 (Illustration) Biographies Civil Rights Famous Historical Events Famous People Film Law and Politics Social Studies World History Ethics Slaves and Slave Owners

The House of Commons, in London’s Westminster, as it appeared during the time of William Wilberforce. This drawing was created by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson for Ackermann's Microcosm of London (1808-11). The Commons chamber, as seen here, was destroyed by an 1834 fire.  Online, via Wikimedia Commons.


Three years after William Wilberforce made his first anti-slave-trade speech, members of Parliament decided they would gradually abolish the practice.

The law did not change.

Wilberforce, and his abolitionist colleagues—black and white—continued their efforts, enduring newspaper attacks, physical assaults and death threats. William had to travel with an armed bodyguard.

The law did not change.

As members of the public grew more concerned about the slave trade, they boycotted sugar, signed petitions and marched on the Prime Minister's office.

The law did not change.

In 1796, abolitionists believed enough members of Parliament were finally ready to pass the bill. Obviously concerned, slave-trade proponents offered certain MPs free tickets to the opera. Perhaps those who enjoyed the performance the night of the vote were not-yet ready to abandon human trafficking. The bill failed by four votes.

The law did not change.

Exhausted, Wilberforce had a nervous breakdown. His friend, John Newton, encouraged him to keep his focus and ignore those who were set against him:

[T]he God whom you serve continually is able to preserve and deliver you, he will see you through.

Eighteen years after he first raised the issue, Wilberforce put another bill before Parliament. It was the 23rd of February, 1807. As he listened to the debate, William sensed momentum was now in favor of abolishing the slave-trade law. At 4:00 a.m., the House of Commons voted.

The law changed - by a vote of 283 to 16.

Wilberforce bowed his head and wept.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2007

Updated Last Revision: Feb 29, 2016

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"SLAVE TRADE ABOLISHED - FEBRUARY 23, 1807" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 01, 2007. Feb 17, 2020.
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