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WE NEED MORE WILBERFORCES

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Christians became increasingly concerned about the slave trade. They amassed information on the inhumane treatment of the slaves and believed that eventually they could generate sufficient public support to overcome the slave trade interests in Parliament. But they needed political leadership.

William Wilberforce was elected to Parliament in 1780. He was converted in 1785, in part as a result of the ministry of John Newton, once a slave trader and then a clergyman in the Church of England. Newton and others urged Wilberforce to investigate the slave trade and to consider whether he could fight for its abolition in Parliament. Wilberforce concluded, "So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity and carried on as this was must be abolished."

His effort took 20 years. He was vigorously opposed by the slave traders, who had powerful allies in Parliament. There was also resistance because this was a moral battle: "Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life," complained Lord Melbourne. But with the help of Christians throughout England, Wilberforce eventually succeeded, and in 1807 Parliament voted to abolish the slave trade. We need more Wilberforces.

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