William Wilberforce: His Impact on Nineteenth-Century


William Wilberforce: His Impact on Nineteenth-Century


William Wilberforce is remembered today mainly for his long Parliamentary campaign for the abolition of the slave-trade. He took up the cause of Africa and the West Indian slaves in 1786, and the Act of Parliament for Abolition finally received the Royal Assent and became
law on 25 March 1807.

Not that that was the end of the struggle. Wilberforce had always seen the abolition of trading in human beings as but the first step towards the ultimate goal of the outlawing of slavery itself.

This objective was not attained until 1833. By then Wilberforce had been retired from the politics of Westminster for eight years, and had handed on to others the baton of the antislavery campaign. It was his joy to live just long enough to hear of the final success in the
House of Commons of the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery. He died two days later.

Although it is for this success in the fight against slavery that Wilberforce is chiefly remembered now, it is my intention not to focus in this paper upon that aspect of his work, but on Wilberforce’s impact on nineteenth-century society. In my view, Wilberforce’s greatest impact on nineteenth-century British society came not through his work on behalf of the slaves, but through the other great task to which he believed himself to be called of God.

On Sunday, 28 October 1787 Wilberforce wrote in his diary: ‘God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners’, by which he meant the reform of the morals of Britain.

His own personal impact on nineteenth-century society, I would suggest, was greater in his campaign for the reformation of manners.


Jonathan Bayes


Churchman 108/2 1994






United Kingdom

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Jonathan Bayes, “William Wilberforce: His Impact on Nineteenth-Century
Society,” Anti-Racism Digital Library, accessed August 12, 2022, https://sacred.omeka.net/items/show/156.