England abolished slavery before the United States, and one of the primary reasons for this was a man name William Wilberforce and his dedication to ending this horrible practice.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: Hey, Connor.
Connor: So our new guidebook series, one of my favorite books in that series is all about courageous heroes, the Tule Twins Guide to Courageous Heroes. And we’ve mentioned a few of them in some past episodes. We’ve discussed Booker T. Washington and Harriet Tubman. And today I wanna talk about someone else from the book. One of my favorite, favorite stories, I love this guy. His name is William Wilberforce. And, he’s a man who helped, not just helped, he was kind of the primary reason why slavery was abolished in England.
Brittany: Would you say he was a force to be reckoned with?
Connor: Oh, he was away,
Brittany: I’m sorry.
Connor: He reckoned with a good, and bad joke. and of course, this isn’t just random England and island in the Illinois, this is like the British Empire, the world’s biggest empire. They’re spread out all over the globe, you know, and so this is like the the world’s biggest superpower at the time. And this is the guy who’s responsible. Now, outside of kind of politics, you might say, he’s a singer. He had a great personality, you know, he was the life of the party. He was also a very religious person. And so his parents belonged to the Church of England. but he spent most of his early years with his aunt and uncle, and they attended an evangelical church. And so these religious beliefs that he was kind of exposed to would end up playing a very large role in his life. And, you know, he didn’t believe that your religious beliefs should end, you know, after Sunday school was done, like he kind of closed the Bible. And, you know, back to normal life, and maybe I’ll reopen the Bible and my religious beliefs later, he believed that your convictions, your beliefs should be a central part of your life, that it should influence all of your actions. And, you know, his aunt in particular encouraged, this part of William’s life was a good kind of mentor to him in that regard. And, especially, you know, he spent so much time with her and religion was important to her, as well, William’s mom, and grandfather were not happy about this. you know, the Church of England, was more, you might say, like traditional and reverent. Not, as lively as some of the evangelicals were. And, the churches that were, you know, more lively, were looked down on during this time. they were kind of fringe, you might say. they were seen as being associated with the poor. and even kind of the mental, the deranged people, which it’s kind of funny cuz who did Jesus associate with when he was, here? But you know, that’s so.
Brittany: That’s crazy. Should be, yeah, it’s crazy.
Connor: They would look, they would look down on these churches and I think you’re right, Britney. It is kind of crazy. And yet Williams kind of going through this. And, so his mom is grandpa. They get worried about William’s new faith. They’re worried about, you know, his decisions. And his dad actually had died when he was young. So it’s just his mom and his grandpa back home. So they demanded that he’d come home and live with them, to kind of get away from the exposure to his aunt.
Brittany: And if I remember correctly, this is kind of where the story takes a little bit of a sad turn because William was pretty sad at this time. Obviously, he’s a little depressed. He loved being with his aunt, and then all of a sudden he is taken away and forced to live with his mother who didn’t respect his religious views. You know, he’s thought of as kind of being crazy. And he went through a really dark period where he felt alone. and he was only 12 at the time. And to make matters worse, he wasn’t allowed to have anything to do with his religion that gave him so much passion in life. And spending a lot of time alone was hard because he was so small. And so he is often very sick. He also had trouble with his eyesight, which made it harder for him to spend time, like reading, reading books, you know, something that we could do when we’re alone. So he didn’t have a whole lot to do, but as he grew up, life got better. He went off to school, he was known for kind of attending balls and going to parties and going to the theater. And, you know, things were going pretty well for him, even though he had to leave his religion behind. He was incredibly smart. He graduated from Cambridge, which is one of the top schools in England even today. And he didn’t use a little bit like he didn’t have to study much. You know, those people that don’t do anything get A’s like, he was one of those.
Connor: Hated those people.
Brittany: Right? Me too. but at 21 he ran for Office for Parliament and one, so, you know, clearly he had the charisma to do that. And he was also just so intelligent that he’s this young guy now in Parliament.
Connor: Well, and, he wasn’t like most politicians, right? A lot of politicians vote, you know, with their party very consistently, and they play the game. Well, William refused, right? He wasn’t playing the game. He wasn’t playing party politics. He would consistently vote with his conscience. And, even though it had been years since he was really kind of religious and, had that part of his life, of focus, you know, all of those beliefs that he had as a child returned to him. And, you know, so he was very, focused on caring for the sick and the poor. And it was this kind heart that he had that soon led him to a new group of friends. these were called abolitionists. And so what does that word mean? Well, abolitionists were people who were opposed to slavery. They wanted to abolish it, or they wanted its abolition. And, so during this time, slavery is still legal in England, but there was this growing group of abolitionists who want to abolish slavery. And so it’s this group of friends that were introduced to him, and so he became their friends, and then they introduced him to some former slaves who told William about just the horrors, the awful experiences that they had endured the things that they had seen their friends and family endured. It was very eye-opening for William.
Brittany: Well, and from what we know about him having such a big heart rate, this had to be something that obviously struck him and stayed with him.
Connor: I mean, that’s absolutely true. He had heard stories of how, awful slavery was, but he had never actually heard, from someone who had gone through it, that kinda the personal connection. And he always, you know, knew that slavery was wrong, but, now he’s like directly confronted with it. And so he dedicates his life to abolishing it, no matter, you know, what the cost was.
Brittany: One thing that I love about, people who are, who are really passionate is the speeches they give, right? Like, give me liberty, give me death. Like, these are the moments in history that you remember. And he gave really impassioned speeches in front of parliament just condemning slavery. And this is not something very popular at the time, because a lot of people made their money because they had free labor through slavery, right? So he was always asking them to pass legislation to make it illegal, which was, again, a very brave thing to do, considering that most of Parliament supported it. And going against popular opinion, you know, that’s what makes you courageous. It take great courage to do what you know is right, even though so many people are thinking differently than you. So, unfortunately, his bravery and passion did not change the minds of parliament, at least not yet.
Connor: Oh, I mean, certainly not at the beginning. He was kind of a pariah, I think is probably the right word, that means kind of you’re considered nuts and, fringe and kind of, cast aside. And to his credit, he sticks with it. And it was hard. I mean, he was made fun of, he was kind of, ostracized or kind of separated from people and, he suffered a lot. but he also gained a lot. I mean, he met his wife, through the abolitionist movement, had several children. you know, he lived a good life in his own respect, but he was just this, relentless person, super, super persistent. And year after year, he would try and try and try and, you know, he gave that speech, right? Spreads like wildfire. People are kind of, you know, becoming passionate about the cause. He, finds some new allies, people who are kind of helping him in this, and yet they’re failing again and again, again, think here you are taking on the world’s biggest superpower and one of them yeah, the practices by which it is able to be a superpower, which is on the backs of slaves all over the world. You know, you’re forcing these people to provide you with free labor so that it’s cheaper. And, so the British Empire can finance its wars, and it’s lavish, you know, spending because it’s being subsidized, basically. It’s being supported by slavery. And so here’s Little William Wilberforce in Parliament trying to take on this, massive economic, incentive, right, that led people to want to keep the slave trade because it was good for business. And it’s very hard to get someone to vote against their own self-interest when you’re asking people who have slaves to say, Hey, let’s pass a law saying you can’t have slaves anymore. Oh, and by the way, you know, your business is gonna suffer as a result, and you’re not gonna have as much money, and you’re gonna have to pay people a lot of money like that. That’s just very hard to get people to do. And yet he, you know, persisted and, and time and time, he would just try, and it was much later in his life, years and years and years later, after all these failures that he would give another powerful speech to parliament. But by this time, he’s put in so much work into trying to change people’s hearts and minds little bit by little bit by little bit. And so, by the time he gives this speech, he looks around parliament and, he had done so much of the legwork, he had invested so much in changing people’s hearts that by the time he gives this later speech in life, he looks around the room and he sees, you know, the eyes of his colleagues filled with tears. And these people see that he’s invested his life into this cause, that he had this moral conviction that he would not let go. He knew this was right. And so he was gonna press forward whatever the difficulties. And these people, you know, came to realize that they were in the wrong, and they had kind of time to transition away, you know, from slavery in their own, you know, situations, or they were newly elected people, right? The people who had slaves were no longer in, some of them no longer in parliament, and new people had come in, which were more open to William’s ideas. And so the eyes are just filled with tears around the room after years of trying to abolish slavery. Finally, his legislation, the Slave Trade Act passed with a vote of, you know, not like 99 to 98 or, you know, 50 to 47, right? The final vote was 283 to 16. Just phenomenal.
Brittany: Wow. And, one thing to kind of make clear that didn’t stop new, or this stopped new slaves from being taken from their homes, it did not free those who were already enslaved, unfortunately. So there was still more work to be done, but even though he was no longer in parliament anywhere, it wasn’t an elected official anymore. He fought for the rest of his life to end slavery, just as he always had. That was his life’s mission. And this part of the story is, it makes me cry a little bit. It kind of reminds me of how, Thomas Jefferson, you know, and John Adams died on the same day, kind of this like poetic, you know, tragedy. Yeah. So 30 years after his bill passed, he was still trying to end slavery. And even though his poor, you know, health forced him to leave public office, finally in 1833, slavery was abolished in England. And the very next day, William passed away. So, I mean, he, that one day he got the one day of victory, but it almost feels like that’s why he was put on this earth, right? And then once his calling was over, he passed away, which I think is so beautiful in its own way.
Connor: Just a phenomenal story, like you, say, Brittany. And, that poetic ending gives you kind of the chills down your spine. Someone who’s just so tied to a mission and, the right person, right? Just this, this moral man, deep religious convictions, trying to live a virtuous life and, be the example, kind of like Gandhi says, or I think it’s a proverbial quote that people, apply to.
Connor: Yeah. Be the change you wish to see in the world type of thing. And, there’s a film that recreates this whole thing. I believe it’s appropriate for kids. It’s been years since I watched it. but so parents can do your own homework, certainly the older kids, but I think even the younger kids as well. It’s called Amazing Grace.
Brittany: Great movie. Yeah.
Connor: like you’ll do an ugly cry, okay I have the, like, if you just feel like you gotta let that outta your system and have an ugly Cry go turn on Amazing grace. just a phenomenal story. There’s a fantastic biography about William as well. and so we try and do his story justice in the Tuttle Twins Guide to Courageous Heroes. Absolutely a hero in my book. Such an inspiring figure. so head to Tuttletwins.com/products. You can check out that guidebook and the other ones as well, and so for show notes and all the good stuff, Tuttletwins.com/podcast. Good story, Brittany. maybe I’ll go have an ugly cry tonight. Go turn film again. Till next time though, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.