William Wilberforce was no saint

If you believe all the eulogies to him recently for pushing through the Act of Parliament 200 years ago banning slave trading in the British Empire you might be surprised that hes not called Saint William. But for that hed have to have been a Catholic whereas he was an evangelical Christian of the Anglican persuasion. He was a founder of a Society for the Suppression of Vice and Encouragement of Religion which specialised in prosecuting people for enjoying themselves on the Sabbath. He supported the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate as the natural order of things and preached to the poor that:

their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part faithfully to discharge its duties and contentedly to bear its inconveniences; that the present state of things is very short; that the objects, about which worldly men conflict so eagerly, are not worth the contest.

In other words, pie in the sky when you die. And
Remember that we are all fallen creatures, born in sin, and naturally depraved. Christianity recognizes no innocence or goodness of heart (both quoted by E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class).

A nasty piece of work, then. But theres worse. He was a King-and-Country Tory who encouraged mobs to burn effigies of Tom Paine and other Jacobins, i.e., sympathisers with the democratic pretensions of the French Revolution. He was also instrumental in the passing of the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 under which the Tolpuddle Martyrs were later sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay.

A. L. Morton says of him in A Peoples History of England:

When the industrial discontent was crossed with political Jacobinism the ruling class was terrified into more drastic action, and the result was the Combination Laws of 1799 and 1800. These laws were the work of Pitt and his sanctimonious friend Wilberforce, whose well known sympathy for the negro slave never prevented him from being the foremost apologist and champion of every act of tyranny in England, from the employment of Oliver the Spy or illegal detention of poor prisoners in Cold Bath Fields gaol to the Peterloo massacre and the suspension of habeas corpus.

Yes, he was opposed to chattel slavery. From a capitalist point of view, this was an outmoded and inefficient method of labour exploitation. They wanted the only form of slavery to be wage slavery. To which Wilberforce had no objection whatsoever.

(from the Socialist Party’s blogsite at socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/)

Leave a Reply