An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Wilberforce, William

(Aug. 24, 1759-July 29, 1833). English philanthropist, reformer, orator, and evangelical layman. He was born in Hull, Yorkshire. Wilberforce studied at St. John's College, Cambridge University, 1776-1779. In 1780 he was elected to the House of Commons representing Hull. It was in the House of Commons that he worked against slavery and the slave trade. Wilberforce became active in the abolition effort as early as 1787 through his association with the Quaker-founded Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. His first political success occurred on May 9, 1788, when legislation was passed that reduced the number of slaves carried aboard a slave vessel. Because of overcrowding, the mortality rate in slave vessels was quite high. Under Wilberforce's leadership, Parliament passed the bill for the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. From then until his death, Wilberforce worked for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. On Aug. 28, 1833, a month after his death, the bill of Parliament abolishing slavery throughout the British dominions received the King's consent and became law. In 1797 Wilberforce published his major reform volume, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in the Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. The chief point of the book was to distinguish between two types of Christians, the nominal or lukewarm and the real or vital. The vital Christian knows that conversion and the transformation of life are at the heart of Christianity. Wilberforce died in London. His life and work are commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on July 30.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.