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Parliament abolishes the slave trade

In 1805 an abolition bill failed in Parliament, for the eleventh time in 15 years. The London Committee decided to renew pressure, and Thomas Clarkson was sent on a tour of the committees nationwide to rally support for a second petitioning campaign.

The Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill of 1806 became a focus for these petitions. The Bill, which would prevent the import of slaves by British traders into territories belonging to foreign powers, was introduced - as a government measure - by the Attorney-General, Sir Arthur Leary Piggott.

The abolitionists inside Parliament, led by Wilberforce, seemed to pay it little attention, and it passed its early readings without much notice. However, by the third reading, the anti-abolitionists understood its broad implications and that Wilberforce and his colleagues had implemented a clever strategy to play down its wider ramifications.

The Bill was passed on 23 May 1806 and the stage was set for full abolition of the British trade. The Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, introduced the Slave Trade Abolition Bill in the House of Lords on 2 January 1807 for its first reading.

Its introduction by the head of the Government marked it as official policy, and its second reading in the Lords was agreed 100 votes to 34, despite resistance from the Duke of Clarence (the future king William IV) and other peers with West Indian interests. After consideration by committee and a third reading, the Bill arrived in the House of Commons on 10 February.

The London Committee members rented a house in Downing Street to be close to Parliament to lobby MPs. After 18 years of promoting abolition Wilberforce received a standing ovation during the key Commons debate on 23 February. The debate lasted ten hours and the House voted in favour of the Bill by 283 votes to 16 - a victory far in excess of expectations. 

The remaining stages took a further month, and the Bill received Royal Assent on 25 March 1807.


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