How was British slavery abolished? Not by William Wilberforce.

From an article in Panbazuka News: Will the Real William Wilberforce Please Stand up?

Bro. K. Bangarah argues that it was a series of military, economic and political forces, as well as the actions of a group of Afrikan activists in Britain that led to the abolition of slavery – and not William Wilberforce. In the first part of this serialised article, Bangarah says Wilberforce merely claimed leadership of the movement.

Part One: British imperialism: unrepentant for its crimes against humanity

On 25 March 1807 British imperialism claims to have abolished one of its own institutions. It was an institution that brought with it such a level of human misery that it amounted to an unremitting act of genocide against Afrikan people. The imperialists refer to that genocide as the ‘slave trade’. The first point this raises is evident: British imperialism is so obscenely and profoundly barbaric that it required an act of Parliament to get it to stop kidnapping Afrikan people, chaining and deporting us from our homeland in conditions worse than those suffered by cattle.

The British establishment have totally failed and continue to fail to acknowledge this and their other acts of genocide against Afrikan people as a crime against humanity. Their actions were and are completely and utterly wrong and morally indefensible. In their attempts to mislead Afrikan, British and other peoples of the world, they are trying to claim the credit for bringing this genocide to an end. The truth is that they did not stop kidnapping and deporting our people because they realised how evil and wrong their behaviour was. They did it because they were forced to; the unstoppable forces emanating from Afrikan people determined to liberate themselves from bondage, left them with no other choice.

World military, political and economic forces overwhelmed the institution of slavery

One of the most critical of these forces was the British working classes. They were involved in petitions against the kidnapping and deportation of Afrikan people because they were concerned about the mounting loss of British lives on the high seas and abroad. In order to kidnap and deport Afrikan people from their homes, it was necessary to have able kidnappers; British imperialists called them ‘sailors’. In addition to being evil, theirs was a dangerous occupation, because out of a total of 12,263 kidnappers, 2,643 perished as a direct result of their ‘work’. When the British public learned that almost a quarter of their kidnapper sons were killed or lost (Williams, 1944; Martin, 1999), they engaged in the mass petitioning of Parliament. It was through this process that abolitionists perfected the modern tactics of lobbying Parliament and pressuring MPs (Walwin, 1993).

A few very important forces came via the British enslavers themselves. The older British colonies already had large numbers of enslaved Afrikan people who substantially out-numbered their enslavers (Ferguson, 1998) (James, 1963). Their numbers were in fact the real basis of their enslavers’ prosperity. The existing large numbers was a double edged sword for their enslavers because it meant that it was too risky for them to import any more Afrikan people. The enslaver planters were living on a knife edge, in constant fear of the rebellions and raids mounted by enslaved and marooned Afrikan people. Rebellions whether successful or unsuccessful, could lead to their deaths, the loss of colonial lands and the loss of the stolen free labour of enslaved Afrikan people. Any further importation would simply reinforce the battalions of Afrikan maroon communities and rebel Afrikan people on the plantations. Therefore, if they could prevent further imports to the colonies this would be a good method of preserving their own lives whilst at the same time allowing them to keep control.

They also feared being undercut by competitors from the newer British colonies as well as from other imperialist colonies in the Caribbean. British and French imperialists were constantly warring with each other over Caribbean lands that they each had stolen from the indigenous American Indians (Greenwood, 1980, p. 10-15). In the course of the warring Britain managed to steal two additional Caribbean colonies, Guiana and Trinidad. Both were underdeveloped and desperately needed the labour of enslaved Afrikan people in order to prosper. However, the longer established British colonials recognised that the two new colonies with their virgin soils would offer them stiff competition and they were willing to try any measure that might stave off financial disaster. If they could prevent the new colonies from importing Afrikan people, their position would be protected.

Furthermore, 50 per cent of enslaved Afrikan people kidnapped and deported by Britain were sold to French enslavers and the French ran their sugar colonies more profitably than the British. The importation of more kidnapped Afrikan people meant that the French could undercut the British in the imperialist sugar markets (Ferguson, 1998). This scenario had the added irony that the British trafficking of Afrikan people was helping the French to out-perform them economically. If they could prevent the further importation of kidnapped Afrikan people, they could cut the supply of the much needed Afrikan labour to the French and gain the economic upper hand. In other words, the cutting of the supply of kidnapped Afrikan people would solve all of their major problems in one fell swoop. Therefore, in the spirit of self-preservation, the solution adopted by the older established British enslaver colonists was to join the growing demand to outlaw the process of kidnapping and deporting of Afrikan people to Caribbean colonies.

Another critical force came via the imperialists based in Britain. They were primarily concerned with immediate losses in their own profits and revenue that resulted from the uprisings of enslaved Afrikan people. Additionally that the process of rapid industrialisation, which they were undergoing, would give them a longer term competitive advantage over the other imperialist nations. They therefore had an eye on the potential super profits that could be made from the pending transition from an agricultural based economy relying on enslaved Afrikan people, to an industrial based economy which needed low paid workers. They came to the realisation that giving Afrikan people the illusion of freedom through the paying of wages would make them much richer in the long run. With these changes, even some of the imperialists began to warm to the idea of abolition.

All of the factors mentioned above were far more important contributors to the abolition of the so-called ‘slave trade’ than anything that Wilberforce ever did. They formed part of the range of forces that compelled the British government to change its approach to kidnapping and deporting Afrikan people from their homes. Wilberforce, who was unofficially appointed to his ‘abolitionist leadership’ role by the government, did little more than navigate his way through these forces: it is these forces that drove Wilberforce; not the other way round. Furthermore, an honest analysis reveals that the fundamental cause of all of these forces was the activity and resistance of the Afrikan people.

Afrikan people in Britain drove the diplomatic front for abolition

The first group of kidnapped Afrikan people forcibly deported to Britain, arrived in 1555 (Martin, 1999). By the last quarter of the 18th century, British imperialist kidnapping and compulsory deportation of Afrikan people resulted in 10,000 to 15,000 of London’s 80,000 population being Afrikan people (Martin, 1999). The total population of Afrikan people throughout the whole of Britain was estimated at 20,000 (Martin, 1999). The majority of the Afrikan people in Britain were held captive and enslaved by British citizens. However by employing a variety of ingenious strategies and methods, a small percentage of them managed to procure their personal ‘freedom’.

It is evident that of all of the groups of people in Britain, Afrikan people had the most to gain from the abolition of slavery and the so- called ‘slave trade’. For this reason it is likely that they had a tendency to be amongst the most sympathetic advocates of the anti- slavery cause as well as amongst the most active groups of people fighting for the abolition of slavery. The evidence of their involvement whether enslaved or ‘free’ is scant, but it is possible to trace some of the names of Afrikan people involved in the broad anti-slavery movement in Britain.

There is documented evidence of the involvement of Afrikan people such as Mary Prince, Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cuguano, Jonathan Strong, James Somerset, Joseph Knight, Ayuba Diallo, George Bridgewater, Ignatus Sancho, William Davison, Robert Wedderburn, Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, John Ystumllyn, William Cuffay and Julius Soubise. However, this list of names cannot do justice to either the volume or quality of activity that would have been forthcoming from the 20,000 strong Afrikan community based in Britain. It seems that their role has been played down by imperialist ‘historians’.

Some of the Afrikan people named here were involved in important anti- slavery court cases; others wrote and narrated their biographies telling of the brutality they suffered and experienced; others still wrote about the cruelty of slavery and others engaged in revolutionary political activity against the imperialist perpetrators of slavery. They tended to ally themselves with groups of British people who established organisations with a progressive attitude towards the abolition of slavery. Their stories were fed into the organised groupings of which they were part, and then cascaded to the British public at large.

Their stories had a massive impact on the British public, most of whom were ignorant about the evils and injustices of slavery. The evidence provided by Afrikan people in Britain was the crucial spark that ignited mass movements for justice among the working classes. The release of their information raised consciousness amongst the masses of Britons to a point where they began to seriously challenge the British establishment about both the plights of the working classes and the suffering of enslaved Afrikan people. It was therefore the political and diplomatic work of Afrikan people, working in an extremely hostile British environment, which led the national processes that brought about the abolition of slavery and the so called ‘slave trade’. It most certainly was not some character called Wilberforce as some portray.

One of the methods of lying used by imperialism to distort history is simply to omit or prevent the emergence of relevant facts in historical discourse: failing to tell the whole truth. In the case of Afrikan enslavement, an army of imperialist liars presented to us as ‘historians’ have insulted the memory of our Afrikan ancestors who fought for Afrikan liberation in Britain. They have done this by under-representing the contributions of Afrikan people, and by presenting William Wilberforce as some kind of leader in the Afrikan liberation process. Some of these ‘historians’ have taken the lies to even higher levels of distortion by attempting to present Wilberforce as the saviour of enslaved Afrikan people.

Wilberforce: a drug addict and latecomer to the abolition cause

Afrikan people resisted our enslavement from the very first day that European imperialism attempted to steal our people. However, it was not until 1776 that the world began to hear the first openly anti- slavery utterances from the British establishment. This happened when David Hartley condemned the ‘slave trade’ in the House of Commons (Hart, 2006, p. 1). It had taken British imperialism well over 200 years to begin to notice that there might be something wrong with kidnapping, deporting, holding in bondage, enslaving, murdering and otherwise abusing Afrikan people. Another initiative followed in 1783 when the Quakers petitioned parliament against human trafficking (Hart, 2006, p. 1). Wilberforce was not involved in any of these early anti-slavery initiatives.

On 22 May 1787 a group of British people gave themselves the official sounding title ‘The Abolition Society’ and declared their existence to the British establishment. The society gave the outward impression that it was against the enslavement of Afrikan people, although its activities often suggested otherwise. Interestingly imperialism’s ‘great saviour and hero’, Wilberforce was not amongst the original grouping (Hart, 2006, p. 1). Nor did he end up joining the society of his own volition or as a matter of conscience. Instead he was ‘recruited’ and sent into the abolition movement by the then Prime Minister William Pitt (Ferguson, 1998, p. 132; Williams, 1944, p. 123). The fake cover story about his moral and religious conviction compelling him to work for the abolition of slavery was made up later.

The process of recruiting Wilberforce was probably made easier by the fact that he had a related personal vested interest; his family were wool merchants. There is no doubt that he took his family interest seriously since he operated as the official Parliamentary spokesman for the wool industry (Williams, 1944, p. 160). It is likely that he would have perceived the cotton industry, with its abundance of unpaid labour stolen from enslaved Afrikan people, as a rival with a competitive advantage that was unfair even by primitive capitalist standards (Martin, 1999).

The choice of Wilberforce for the anti-slavery ‘moral crusade’ was an interesting one. Throughout his adult life, he is reported to have suffered significant health problems (Howarth, 1973). This is hardly surprising given the fact that he was a known drug addict. Apparently he was a junkie, unable to wean himself off his reliance on hard drugs. British historians inform us that: ‘William Wilberforce … took opium every day for 45 years’ (Howarth, 1973). This evidence reveals the fact that Wilberforce demonstrated a greater level of commitment to the consumption of hard drugs than he ever did to the abolition of slavery. Evidence concerning whether he took hard drugs more often than he prayed is inconclusive. As if that was not enough, he was also known to indulge in drinking and gambling (Howarth, 1973). The appointment of a known drug addict and apparent drunkard as the champion of the abolition movement suggests that the British establishment had no real intention of abolishing the kidnapping, deporting and enslavement of Afrikan people.

* Bro. K. Bangarah is a member of the Global Afrikan Congress, based in the UK.

* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at

wwww.pambazuka.org

References

1. Ferguson. James, (1998), The Story of the Caribbean People, Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers

2. Foot. M.R.D., (2002), Secret Lives: Lifting the Lid on the Worlds of Secret Intelligence, Oxford: Oxford University Press

3. Fryer. Peter, (1984), Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, London: Pluto Press

4. Greenwood. R., & Hamber. S., (1980), Emancipation to Emigration, MacMillan Caribbean

5. Hart. Richard, (1998), From Occupation to Independence: A Short History of the Peoples of the English Speaking Caribbean Region, London: Pluto Press

6. Hart. Richard, (2006), A talk ‘The Slaves Who Abolished Slavery’, London: Centerprise Bookshop, 11th October 2006

7. Hochschild. Adam, (2005), ‘Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels’ in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Mariner Books

8. Howarth. David, (1973), The British Empire; Volume 2, London: BBC TV Time Life Books

9. James. C.L.R., (1963), The Black Jacobins, Vintage Books

10. Martin. Steve, (1999), Britain’s Slave Trade, Channel 4 Books

11. Schama. Simon, (2006), Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the

12. Walwin. James, (1993), Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery, Fontana Press

13. Williams. Eric, (1944), Capitalism and Slavery, Andre Deutsch

Internet References

1. A Web of English History, http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/terrace/adw03/c-eight/people/wilberf.htm

2. Agnes Bronte 1813 – 1892, http://freespace.virgin.net/pr.og/agnes.html

3. Ligali, (Monday 6th November 2006), Set All Free Deny WilberforceFilm Endorsement, http://www.ligali.org/article.php?id=563

4. The Amazing Change, http://www.theamazingchange.com/timeline.html

William Wilberforce 1759-1833, Biography, http://www.brycchancarey.com/abolition/wilberforce.htm

Part Two: Wilberforce: Government agent and bogus anti-slavery ‘leader’?

The recruitment of Wilberforce by the Prime Minister is an important clue suggesting that he may have been appointed to perform a subversive role designed to hold up the abolition process. Pitt was determined that Wilberforce, a backbencher, should be the official spokesman for the abolition society and in that role, present the abolition bill in Parliament. This is very surprising since the bill would have stood a much greater chance of success if the Prime Minister had taken it on as part of government business, headed and presented by a cabinet Minister. If he had really wanted to abolish the ‘slave trade’ he could have used the full power of his office to make it happen. The truth is that the Prime Minister’s situation was delicate as he wanted to appear to be in favour of abolition, whilst in reality being doggedly opposed to it.

Pitt was forced into giving the false impression that he favoured abolition because of the growing awareness about: (i) the barbarity, wickedness and general evil of slavery, and (ii) the large number of deaths of British seamen, soldiers and other personnel overseas. The resulting and ever growing outcry from the British public for the abolition of the ‘slave trade’ increased the pressure on him and his government to act. This then created serious problems for a government that relied heavily on the income that it received in the form of taxes from enslavers and others who profited from the human misery of enslaved Afrikan people. Pitt’s tactical response was to send in his close and trusted friend Wilberforce; so close that at one time they even lived in the same house (Howarth, 1973). Wilberforce’s role was to function as the society’s mouthpiece with the latent agenda of containing, stifling, thwarting, delaying and otherwise redirecting the pressure on government so as to stave off the abolition of slavery.

There are signs that initially Wilberforce was not quite up to the task of infiltrating and undermining the organised structures and processes developed to achieve the abolition of slavery. It evidently became necessary to coerce him into stepping more fully into the bogus leadership role ascribed to him because in 1787 Pitt found it necessary to warn Wilberforce that: ‘… if he did not bring the motion in [to the House of Commons], somebody else would …’ (James, 1963). The thought of somebody else stealing his limelight seems to have helped him overcome his reluctance.

Some readers might find it strange to think in terms of Wilberforce having operated as an under cover government spy working to subvert the abolitionist movement. However, we know that Pitt was really against the abolition of slavery because of his response to the Haitian revolution. When the world saw the Afrikan people in Haiti rise up and abolish slavery, Pitt failed to offer them either his government’s support or even its official recognition. Instead he sent 60,000 British soldiers, mostly to die, in an unsuccessful attempt to crush the Afrikan people there in order to return them back into slavery (James, 1963). Pitt’s actions must have been designed to maintain slavery, because he did not send his troops into nearby France to assist attempts to crush the revolutionary Jacobins who were fighting a similar cause.

Instead of correcting his close friend the Prime Minister and championing the cause of the Afrikan people fighting for their freedom in Haiti, Wilberforce publicly supported Pitt’s decision to send British forces into Haiti in order to fully re-instate slavery on the island. There can be little doubt that this action was specifically against the enslaved Afrikan people who were fighting for freedom. We know this because in 1792 he used the Haitian revolution as a pretext for abandoning the bill to abolish the ‘slave trade’ that had already successfully passed through the House of Commons (Hart, 1997). It was agreed that this bill would bring the slave trade’ to an end on 1 January 1796. That they should be prepared to go to such lengths is proof conclusive that both Wilberforce and Pitt were unequivocally and fundamentally opposed to the abolition of slavery. Any other utterances that they made were just anti-slavery rhetoric designed to camouflage their real agenda. It is just not possible for an honest and objective observer to consider these facts and reasonably draw any other conclusion.

In addition, there is documented evidence confirming that governments of that period in British history actively used their own under cover agents as spies against groups that they did not approve of. Afrikan anti-slavery and anti-imperialist heroes such as William Davison (Fryer, 1984) and William Cuffay (Fryer, 1984) were executed or otherwise persecuted as a direct result of the subversive activities of government sponsored undercover agent provocateurs. The Briton Arthur Thistlewood suffered a similar fate (Foot, 2002).

As will be seen, Wilberforce consistently behaved in ways that ran counter to the objective of abolishing slavery. It is his consistent pattern of blatant anti-abolitionist, blatant racist and blatant sexist behaviours that lay him open to the accusation of being a subversive government agent. It is also interesting to note that all the time William Pitt, the man who appointed him, was Prime Minister all bills to abolish the kidnapping and deportation of Afrikan people failed to make their way through Parliament. It was only after the death of Pitt in 1806 that the abolition of the slave trade bill finally made it onto the statue book.

Racist Wilberforce opposed the abolition of slavery

Another of the methods used by imperialism to propagate its lies is to create or control organisations that pretend to champion particular just causes whilst, at the same time, adopting the hidden agenda of derailing or containing that just cause. The actions of the so called ‘Abolition Society’ were consistent with that pattern in that despite its progressive sounding name, it openly boasted that it did not seek the abolition of the enslavement of Afrikan people. For instance, on 12 August 1788 just months after Wilberforce started operating as its ‘unofficial’ Parliamentary spokesman, the ‘Abolition Society’ issued its first public statement: ‘… proclaiming that the abolition of slavery was not their objective’ (Hart, 2006). The following year 1789, a Privy Council report concluded that free waged labourers were three times more productive than enslaved people (Ferguson, 1998). There was an increasing realisation that enslaved people had no purchasing power and that this was as an obvious impediment to the development of the capitalist market system of distribution and exchange (Hart, 1998).

The society appears to have been completely unmoved by the mounting sources of information and pressure supportive of the abolition of slavery. They still stubbornly refused to advocate for the abolition of slavery and on 31 January 1792 Wilberforce’s friends in the ‘Abolition Society’ issued their second public statement: ‘… proclaiming that the abolition of slavery was not their objective’ (Hart, 2006). If these actions were not enough to demonstrate the desire of Wilberforce and his friends to hold back progress towards gaining the ‘freedom’ of enslaved Afrikan people then, on 29 March 1797 the case was sealed; three years after Wilberforce officially joined, the disingenuous nature of the ‘Abolition Society’ was confirmed when it issued its third public statement: ‘… proclaiming that the abolition of slavery was not their objective’ (Hart, 2006). From the point of view of Afrikan people, this is an aspect of Wilberforce’s ‘help’ that we could have done without.

The success of the Haitian revolution and the Haitian declaration of independence in 1804 forced all of the imperialist nations to reconsider their approach to the enslavement of Afrikan people (James, 1963). All of Pitt’s and Wilberforce’s attempts to support the maintenance of slavery on that island had ended in unmitigated disaster. The experience forced them and other imperialists to accept that they could be militarily defeated by enslaved Afrikan people. It also forced them to accept that if they continued to kidnap and deport Afrikan people to the Americas that they would be adding to the military might of the already powerful enslaved Afrikan people resisting their enslavers. This in turn would lead to the inevitable demise of their European kith and kin living in and colonising those lands.

Denmark wasted no time and abolished the ‘slave trade’ in 1802 (Greenwood, 1980). Britain’s response was slower: Since the 1790s the British Parliament had developed the habit of thwarting all attempts to abolish the kidnapping and deportation of Afrikan people into enslavement. Despite their military defeats at the hands of Afrikan people in Haiti. Some sections of the British establishment refused to accept the need to abolish. Over a period they began to accept reality, Britain changed stance and a bill for the abolition of the ‘slave trade’ was, though not for the first time, approved by the House of Commons in 1804. It was however, held up by the intransigence of House of Lords (Hart, 1998).

When in 1807 the House of Lords finally capitulated under the overwhelming pressure to abolish the practice of kidnapping and deporting Afrikan people, Wilberforce attempted to put the breaks on the Afrikan liberation process by publicly denouncing the idea of emancipating enslaved Afrikan people (Williams, 1944). Following that, Wilberforce was to go on to prove just how reactionary he actually was when he and his friends delayed advocating the ‘gradual emancipation’ of enslaved Afrikan people until 1923 – 16 years (Hart, 2006). It is clear that he did not feel it necessary to consult with enslaved Afrikan people since he expressed the opinion that we were not yet: ‘… fit … to bear emancipation …’ (Martin, 1999). Wilberforce’s actions are clearly consistent with those of a person who was completely opposed to the idea of Afrikan people being freed from imperialist oppression.

Racist Wilberforce delayed the abolition of slavery

After the abolition of the ‘slave trade’ in 1807, the next logical step for those in favour of Afrikan emancipation was the immediate abolition of the institution of slavery itself. However, Wilberforce found curious ways of showing his ‘support’ for the cause of immediate abolition. In addition to openly opposing immediate abolition, he practiced behaviours which did not fall far short of those carried out by the racist fascists who controlled the abhorrent anti-human Apartheid system in South Afrika. For instance in 1816, when he claimed to be advocating for ‘equality’ and the ‘emancipation’ of Afrikan and other oppressed people, Wilberforce chaired a dinner of the friends of Afrikans and Asians Society and: ‘… the token Afrikans and Asians invited to the gathering were separated from the other guests by a screen set across the end of the room.’ (Fryer, 1984).

Wilberforce was not shy in demonstrating his apparent ‘compassion’ for enslaved Afrikan people in other ways. For instance, he advocated the idea that Afrikan people should only be whipped at night – presumable so as not to adversely affect production, which took place mainly in the day (Hochschild, 2005). Furthermore, our ‘great hero and saviour’ recommended that Afrikan people be bred like animals as a substitute to boosting our population in the Americas through the kidnapping and compulsory deportation of our people – otherwise referred to as the ‘slave trade’.

Following the rebellion of enslaved Afrikan people in Demerara in 1823, calls for the immediate abolition of slavery once again grew amongst the British public. Wilberforce and his friends had successfully held back the aspirations of those people genuinely desiring the immediate abolition of slavery until that year, but the pressure was now becoming too great. The mounting public pressure compelled Wilberforce and his friends to launch the Society for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery (SGAS) (Hart, 2006). They launched the society as a last ditch tactic to further delay the prospect of ending the institution of slavery. Since it was becoming clearer that they could not stop the progress towards abolition, they would drag it out and delay it for as long as possible. The SGAS advocated ideas and policies that would help slavery to survive for a further 100 years. Its members openly boasted that they wanted slavery to gradually: ‘… die away and to be forgotten …’ (Williams, 1944).

Wilberforce’s anti-abolition position was completely out of touch with the will of the British people and diametrically opposed to the majority of the membership of his own organisation. In May 1830 the SGAS passed a resolution for the immediate abolition of slavery against the wishes of its ‘leadership’ i.e. Wilberforce and his new side kick Buxton (Hart, 2006). This was an important catalyst in the history of the abolition movement. Wilberforce and his friends had successfully delayed, suppressed and contained the demand for the immediate freedom of enslaved Afrikan people for over 40 years. Wilberforce was clearly an enemy of Afrikan people, not a friend.

Sexist Wilberforce opposed women’s groups advocating the abolition of slavery

In Britain, women were, after the Afrikan community itself, the most radical advocates for the abolition of slavery (Martin, 1999). Whilst Wilberforce was openly advocating against the abolition of slavery, women’s groups were actively campaigning to achieve immediate abolition. One example comes via Elizabeth Heyricke who wrote a pamphlet entitled, Immediate Not Gradual Emancipation (Martin, 1999). Women were also prolific in the amassing of millions of signatures for anti-slavery petitions. More importantly, they led the mass boycott campaigns that damaged the economic interests of the plantation enslavers and their allies. Peckham Ladies Anti-Slavery Association is an example of a women’s group that contributed to the organisation of the campaign to boycott West Indian sugar (Williams, 1944).

Wilberforce actively opposed female anti-slavery associations and their role in organising boycott campaigns (Williams, 1944, p. 182). Wilberforce refused to accept women’s signatures on anti-slavery petitions (Martin, 1999). He tried to discourage and silence the political activities of women’s groups working for the anti-slavery cause. If he was genuinely in favour of the abolition of slavery, he would have thanked and encouraged the women’s groups for the sterling work that they were doing to advance the cause that he claimed to stand for. In failing to do so he was demonstrating his overt sexism and simultaneously harming the prospects of Afrikan people being freed from the bondage of imperialism. His undermining behaviour was clearly inconsistent with that of person sincerely working to achieve the abolition of slavery.

Whilst he vociferously denounced the idea of women being involved in open political activity aimed at abolishing slavery, he made no such condemnation of the public exploitation of women as prostitutes in brothels. During that period innocent Afrikan women were kidnapped, transported from their homes and held captive as sex slaves in British brothels. If he was genuinely against the enslavement of Afrikan people, he would have used his position in Parliament to help outlaw this most despicable of human abuses. However, instead of condemning this outrageous practice as a crime against the humanity of Afrikan women, he joined the exploitation process. He personally participated in systematically organised episodes of rape perpetrated against these defenceless Afrikan women, whose misfortune it was to be imprisoned in British imperialism’s brothels.

This aspect of his behaviour was brought to the attention of the public by cartoonists in the national press (Howarth, 1973). Wilberforce does not appear to have denied these public accusations, nor did he take legal action to protect his ‘good name’. He would have had some difficulty defending himself given that his secret mistress Agnes Bonte described as a ‘prostitute’ actually set up and ran a ‘top people’s’ brothel in London. She is said to have developed her liking for bondage after going on private boat trips with Wilberforce where he demonstrated the way in which Afrikan people were held in chains on the human trafficking ships of the time (Agnes Bronte 1813-1892).

Perhaps one reason why he was so openly against the abolition of slavery is that it could have led to a personal ‘loss of privileges’ on his part, by denying him his unrestricted access to the group of disempowered Afrikan women whom he used as sex toys. Wilberforce’s perverted, misogynistic and racist behaviour falls significantly short of that which should be expected of anybody posing as an ‘Afrikan liberator, hero and saviour’.

* Bro. K. Bangarah is a member of the Global Afrikan Congress, based in the UK,

* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at www.pambazuka.org

References

1. Ferguson. James, (1998), The Story of the Caribbean People, Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston, Jamaica

2. Foot. M.R.D., (2002), Secret Lives: Lifting the Lid on the Worlds of Secret Intelligence, Oxford University Press

3. Fryer. Peter, (1984), Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, Pluto Press

4. Greenwood. R., & Hamber. S., (1980), Emancipation to Emigration, Macmillan Caribbean

5. Hart. Richard, (1998), From Occupation to Independence: A Short History of the Peoples of the English Speaking Caribbean Region, Pluto Press

6. Hart. Richard, (2006), A talk on the subject of: The Slaves Who Abolished Slavery, Centerprise Bookshop, Dalston, London, 11th October 2006

7. Hochschild. Adam, (2005), Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Mariner Books

8. Howarth. David, (1973), The British Empire; Volume 2, BBCTV Time Life Books

9. James. C.L.R., (1963), The Black Jacobins, Vintage Books

10. Martin. Steve, (1999), Britain’s Slave Trade, Channel 4 Books

11. Schama. Simon, (2006), Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the

12. Walwin. James, (1993), Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery, Fontana Press

13. Williams. Eric, (1944), Capitalism and Slavery, Andre Deutsch

Internet References

1. A Web of English History, dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/terrace/adw03/c-eight/people/wilberf.htm

2. Agnes Bronte 1813 – 1892, http://freespace.virgin.net/pr.og/agnes.html

3. Ligali, (Monday 6th November 2006), Set All Free Deny Wilberforce Film Endorsement, www.ligali.org/article.php?id=563

4. The Amazing Change, http://www.theamazingchange.com/timeline.html

William Wilberforce 1759-1833, Biography, www.brycchancarey.com/abolition/wilberforce.htm

Another Source on Slave Rebellions: The Breaking the Silence website

Across the Atlantic World, there were always individuals or groups who publicly expressed their opposition to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. However, the most intense opposition was by enslaved Africans themselves and their resistance, together with abolitionists across Europe and the United States, was eventually enough to bring the trade to an end. Acts of resistance took place at every stage of African enslavement, from the struggles in Africa at the Coast, to the rebellions during the Middle Passage and the escapes or uprisings at the end of the voyage in the Americas or the Caribbean.

Read “Resistance, Rebellion, and Abolition” in MS Word format.

5 Responses to “How was British slavery abolished? Not by William Wilberforce.”


  1. 1 ms B October 1, 2007 at 2:38 am

    As a black person living in britain ( from the caribbean) i cannot aplaud loud enough. the british are touchy about this issue and feel that they should be lauded because compared to spain and portugal it was early that it somehow expunges the fact that they any the alone accounted for 75% plus of the trade in the 18th century and therefore allows them to be shame-free when black people bring it up.

  2. 2 leah May 11, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    It was not exactly abolished by William Wilberforce, but he did lead the movement and his name was known for what he had done, so therefore if he did nothing, or nothing important, he would not have his name well-known. Everybody makes mistakes, and sure wilberforce made his share, but at least he stood up for what he thought and in the end he was a BIG part of the abolishing the slave law thing.

  3. 3 Geoffrey Archer October 10, 2008 at 1:53 am

    Sir,
    what you have written does have some historical context, for example the facts about Wilberforce not starting the movement, however the rest of what you have written is the most bias piece of work I have ever encountered. Comments such as whether Wilberforce was more dedicated to hard drugs than slavery abolition are rediculous and have no relavence to the subject. Clearly you have no concept of a historical argument.

    It is true that Wilberforce’s efforts are often exagerated on the abolition of the slave trade, I believe that the main reasons for abolition of the trade are the following,the changing views across Europe about slavery (i.e public opinion) thanks to men such as Thomas Clarkson, Olaudah Equiano and Granville sharp, secondly the fact that during the stage of war between Britain and Frace British slave ships still traded with French colonies (flying american flags)and so accordingly this was ended and in doing so caused the majority of trading to end. Thirdly the fact that parliament believed slave numbers could continue without the trade continuing (ie reproduction was enough to keep numbers high) and the rebellion of Haiti was a circumstance not wanted again (by the way youi confuse the British army with the French one, far fewer British soldiers were sent to the Island withiin the hundreds and gracefully were defeeated, if you had any idea of the size of the British army throughout history you would have gathered this).

    You should be thankfull of men like Wilbnerforce who consistently tried to help black during this period, his dedication to the abolition is unquestionable as he put it through parliament mopre times than anyone else and continued to do so when the cause was at its weakest.

  4. 4 James Acland December 9, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Another thread that deserves further investigation is the fact that ‘the colonies’ i.e. America, were baying for independence from the crown.

    Of course there was a movement within Britain to thwart independence, what better way to slow down the industrial agriculutural progress of a ‘nation’ than by cutting off its essential work force and manpower (slaves)?

    Corona.

  5. 5 Richard Machira November 8, 2011 at 6:11 am

    The capitalist should now play a big role to cover the economic gap they left in Africa as a result of their evil (SLAVE TRADE) They are stil using this gap again to underdevelop Africa with their new form of colonialism (NEO COLONIALISM). They go far beyond! They giv condition of axcepting SINGLE SEX MARREAGE, For a country in Africa to reserv a aid from them! They now forget that their are the result of African exploited resources! THEY HAV PAY FOR WHAT THEY HAVE DONE TO AFRICAN CONTINENT!


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