On Facebook last night, State Representative Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City) shared his remarks about William Wilberforce (1780-1825) on the Iowa House floor. He gave them Tuesday morning shortly after the Iowa House gaveled in. Apparently, different legislators give presentations for Black History Month.
Wilberforce may seem like an odd choice as a topic of Wheeler’s presentation given that he happened to be white and a member of the British Parliament, but he was a driving force behind the end of the slave trade and the abolishment of slavery in Great Britain. (And yes, I recognize that Black history is not just about slavery, Wilberforce just has a great story.)
Wheeler said that Wilberforce was one of his heroes, and he is certainly a model for Christians to look to as we engage in the political realm. He was a fighter and he was a statesman, but most of all he sought to live for and give honor to Christ in the place where God had placed him – Parliament.
Wheeler shared the transcript (as prepared for delivery, he went off script a few times) of his remarks. You can read them below:
For my Black History Month presentation, I will actually be speaking about a pale, white Brit. But, this man was one of the main reasons that black slaves in Great Britain were freed in 1833. That man was William Wilberforce, a personal hero of mine.
William Wilberforce was just 21 years old when he won a seat in Parliament. His first few years were spent enjoying the prestige he had gained and making friends with the upper class in Great Britain. It wasn’t until he converted to Christianity a few years later when Wilberforce began to fight for the abolition of the slave trade and slavery as a whole. Wilberforce wrote in his journal soon after, “God Almighty has set before me two Great Objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”
From 1789 to 1805, Wilberforce introduced 12 resolutions against the slave trade, each of which were shot down in different ways, many being political. Due to these actions, Wilberforce made himself a target for those who were prospering from the slave trade. He was attacked multiple times in many different ways, but it never stopped him. He continued his fight, and formed a group of abolitionists who began to educate both lawmakers and the general public on the horrid conditions that African slaves were faced with during the slave trade.
On March 25, 1807 Wilberforce finally won by passing the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act with 267 votes in favor of the measure. When Wilberforce put up his first resolution to end it, he received just 88 votes in favor of the measure. After abolishing the slave trade, Wilberforce turned his attention to outlawing slavery across the land.
Wilberforce joined the “Society for Gradual Abolition” and worked hard to change public perception of the issue and humanize slaves. His group had their own forms of promotional products, such as a coin that depicted an African slave in chains that read, “Am I not a man and a brother?” Oddly enough, I actually saw a poster of this recently in the Bahamas when I took my wife on our three and a half year overdue honeymoon.
Wilberforce continued his fight against slavery even after he left Parliament in 1824, after having served for nearly 45 years. Wilberforce did what he could afterwards, but his health was in serious decline. However, his efforts had changed the country, and on July 26th, 1833, Great Britain abolished slavery. Wilberforce was given the news that day, and three days later Wilberforce passed away.
Wilberforce was a better man than I could ever hope to be, and was an effective politician who used his position to fight the evil of his day. It is truly one of the most powerful stories I have ever come across.
Thank you Madam Speaker.
You can watch the video of his presentation below: