That’s how long William Wilberforce labored to see the end of slavery in the British Empire. His work began in earnest in 1787 when he first came into contact with abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson, Hannah More and Charles Middleton. These activists found a kindred spirit in Wilberforce, whose conversion to the Christian faith had given birth to an abiding concern for social reform—so much so, in fact, that he wrote in his diary, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”
The long road to abolition
The dark and dehumanizing practice of slavery weighed heavy on him. He first introduced a bill proposing the abolition of slavery in 1791,1 which was soundly defeated. He brought it forward again in 1792, and it was again defeated. And again in 1793. And again in 1794. And again and again and again, each time finding new support and gradually making more and more progress until in 1807, the Slave Trade Act was finally passed by the British Parliament, which put slave trading to a formal end. But that victory was only the beginning—slave trading was not yet truly illegal. So Wilberforce’s campaigning continued through the end of his time in politics in 1826, until his death on July 29, 1833.
One month after his death, the Slavery Abolition Act was finally passed into law and the slave trade was truly finished in the British Empire.
How Wilberforce’s example can encourage us today
On August 3, 2015, the United States Senate voted on a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, the corporation responsible for the deaths of more than 300,000 babies every year. The bill was narrowly defeated, falling only seven votes short of the 60 needed to advance.
The events leading up to this bill even being voted on have been incredibly dramatic (and terrifying), as Westerners have increasingly been forced to realize they cannot turn a blind eye to the abominable practices of the abortion industry. And despite the unlikely event that this first bill would have advanced, today’s pro-life advocates, like their abolitionist forbearers, should not see this as a defeat.
Rather, it is a beginning.
The whole deal with a Wilberforce moment, as my friend Josh called it, is it’s not a one-and-done event. One can only imagine how many sleepless nights Wilberforce endured during those 46 years; how each defeat led to new renewed vigor because the cause was just. Wilberforce didn’t quit, and neither will we.
His moment, like this one, was a first step—the beginning of a long road which will see many defeats. In our day, another bill will come. It might be defeated. If it does, another will come forward. It might advance. If it advances, the President (whomever is in office) may veto. But another will come. And another. And another. Until eventually, we will finally see the end of one of the greatest atrocities committed of our age.
And make no mistake, it will end.
It’s just going to take a little while.