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Wilberforce makes the case

The movement to abolish the slave trade drew on a remarkably wide range of activities, including collecting signatures on petitions, female activism, and distribution of print and graphic images.

It was, however, at its heart, a parliamentary campaign, headed by William Wilberforce. A measure of his success was the fact that by 1792 abolition was an issue entrenched in Parliament. However, it faced a protracted and difficult struggle.

Wilberforce was not formally involved until he was asked by his close friend, the newly-elected Prime Minister, William Pitt, to become the parliamentary spokesman for the campaign in 1787.

The London Committee, part of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, made occasional contact with Wilberforce from October 1787, mainly to ask him to raise the issue in debates.

He formally joined the Committee in 1791 and became their spokesman in the House of Commons.

Pitt set up an enquiry into the slave trade in 1788, and laid its report before the Commons in April 1789.

The following month, Wilberforce pushed for a committee to consider the anti-slave trade petitions that had been presented to the House. He made a long speech emphasising the harsh realities of the slave trade.

Although it was eventually decided to postpone more discussion until the following parliamentary session, Wilberforce had done enough to secure the appointment of a select committee to consider the matter further.


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