Wilberforce and the Abolishment of Slavery in England

Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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Collins Hemingway

Sharon, great post and follow-up. The technical legal question of slavery was indeed indefinite, as early invaders had freed British slaves and the issue hadn’t come up again till Mansfield. But this is a distinction w/o a difference. People w blacks in country treated them as slaves–even as late as 1824. Mansfield was careful to limit ruling to one person but probably knew it would be taken broadly.

Wilberforce was a great man but not the saint of the movie. He and Pitt passed bills that felonized ordinary dissent, suspended habeas corpus, and executed political dissidents. He was vehemently opposed to “republicanism” and couldn’t distinguish between reform and revolution. He opposed slavery but sent the poor to Australia as convict labor–slaves.

This isn’t to tear him down or demean his legacy. It is to show him as a complex human being. Having given tens of thousands of pounds to charitable causes, he died impoverished… and cheerful as ever.


I loved the movie and the song. It is one of the few movies I have on DVD as I generally am not much of a movie fan. I hate all the inaccuracies of the Austen movies. I have to close my eyes to the errors in this movie.I found the sequence confusing at times but overall the story and the people are very inspiring. Wilberforce died just before abolition of slavery went into law. He spent his political life fighting for that end despite ill health. Jane Austen doesn’t mention Wilberforce or even Lord Mansfield but wrote about reading books by Clarkston and generally was supportive of the efforts of Clarkston and Wilberforce. The efforts of the Clarkston brothers need more exposure. People of Sierra Leone ( founded as a place for people freed from slavery as Liberia was founded by Americans) still study the people of the abolition movement in schools. A co worker was from Sierra Leone and was amazed to hear that anyone had heard of Clarkston and Wilberforce. As for the song Amazing Grace- it was written as a poem, of course, but somehow was matched up with the perfect tune.
Some who have made an extensive study of William Pitt the younger say that Cumberbatch had him dead on.

Janis Hudson

Truly a courageous man. I still can’t believe it took so long to realize what a drain slavery was on society.

Tracey Devlyn

Sharon, great essay. I saw Amazing Grace and loved it. Had no idea about the other areas he fought to improve. Great stuff.

MaryAnn Nagy

Thanks for educating us and all this is important for us to learn the history besides the romance. I greatly appreciate all I can learn in my life, good along with the bad! We can not change the past but we sure can try to do a better job for future generations by our actions.

Joy Dawn King

I can only imagine the fervor that this man had when confronted with the injustices of the slave trade. Thank you, Sharon, for this research. It is a sad time in mankind’s history, isn’t it? When I am embroiled in the world of Regency romance, it is easy to have my mind skip over the unsavory elements of that society. Yet, it was there, lurking with its evil. Today, you broadened my scope. I appreciate it very much.

PS: How are you feeling today? Less pain? I hope!!!

Regan Walker

I do agree with you Sharon. We forget all that was going on behind the scenes in Regency England. It wasn’t all balls and soirees.

Regan Walker

Thanks for the post on this great man. For an article I wrote on God in Regency England, I did a fair amount of research on the group of wealthy Anglican Evangelicals, including William Wilberforce, who came together in the village of Clapham, southwest of London, to campaign for an end to slavery. You might find their membership interesting. Dubbed “the saints,” in addition to Wilberforce, they included: Henry and John Venn, rectors; the financier Henry Thornton; Charles Simeon, rector at Cambridge; Granville Sharp, a lawyer and founder of the St. George’s Bay Company, a forerunner of the Sierra Leone Company; Zachary Macaulay, estate manager and Governor of Sierra Leone (established as a homeland for emancipated slaves); John Shore, Lord Teignmouth, formerly Governor-General of India; James Stephen, a lawyer, Wilberforce’s brother-in-law and author of the Slave Trade Act of 1807; Charles Grant, Chairman of the East India Company; and Hannah More, poet and playwright, who produced tracts for the group. I would have love to be able to hear their discussions, wouldn’t you?



I always teach Jane Austen, William Wilberforce, and Horatio Hornblower together. I usually use Persuasion or Mansfield Park because of their strong Naval themes. They actually go very well together. Sometimes I throw in Equiano’s autobiography as well. It makes such a difference to the understanding of Jane’s books to look at them along with other things from the same time period. I totally understand why the 1999 Mansfield Park movie brought so much of the slavery idea into the movie. It made sense, even if it wasn’t exactly canon. Jane Austen, as an upper-middle class female, might or might not have been aware of what was going on beyond the parlor and garden conversations of polite society, but reading her works side by side with Amazing Grace is an eye opener and gives her novels a whole new light.

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