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An Incorrigible Fanatic : William Wilberforce told Parliament that the more his opponents slandered him, the more he was sure he was winning.
An Incorrigible Fanatic

Abridged from ‘The Parliamentary Debates’ Vol. XXXIV (April 26th to July 2nd, 1816), ed. T. C. Hansard.

William Wilberforce, Britain’s leading anti-slavery campaigner, was accused of ‘fanaticism’ for his refusal to accept the prevailing customs of the day. But as he warned Parliament, such jibes only made him more determined to fight on.

THIS work of humanity [said Mr Wilberforce] would at last make its way into the heads and hearts, the understandings and the feelings, of the whole mass of the nation, and would triumph over all opposition. The opposition that had been already overcome afforded him a complete pledge of final success, and rendered him regardless of those things that were uttered and published against him.

He had been charged with methodism and fanaticism.* If to profess humanity to our fellow creatures, and to endeavour with zeal to carry into execution whatever measures lay in his power for promoting their welfare, were the definition of fanaticism, he was afraid that he was a most incorrigible fanatic.

He expected the accomplishment of his object through the fanaticism of the people of England. He trusted to the religion of the people of England, to their humane and Christian feelings, for support in his endeavours; and through their support, for final success in a cause which involved both humanity and religion.

* ‘Methodist’ was an opprobrious term for members of the Church of England who during the 18th century adopted regular hours of prayer, visited the sick and prisoners, and otherwise tried to put the principles of Apostolic life into practice. The most famous methodists, brothers John and Charles Wesley, like Wilberforce himself, never abandoned the Church of England, though a breakaway Methodist Church did subsequently come into existence.

Abridged from ‘The Parliamentary Debates’ Vol. XXXIV (April 26th to July 2nd, 1816), ed. T. C. Hansard.

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Abolition of Slavery (14) History (405)

Picture: By John Simpson (1782–1847), Art Institute of Chicago, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
‘The Captive Slave’, by John Simpson (1782–1847). By 1816, public opinion in Britain, never very friendly towards slavery, was definitely turning against it. As long before this as 1787, Wilberforce had written in his private diary that his life’s ambition was to eradicate the abuse completely, and he died three days after the third and decisive reading of the proposed Slavery Abolition Act in Parliament on July 26th that year. The Act received royal assent on August 28th.
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