When you think of great men in history at the turn of nineteenth century you probably think of Napoleon, Washington, and Metternich. Hardly anyone thinks of William Wilberforce. Yet, he changed the course of history and contributed to the cause of freedom more than any of his contemporaries.
Born into a privileged Yorkshire family in 1759, Wilberforce was a charming, talented young man headed for a promising political career in the highest ranks. In his late 20s, however, he came into the company of quite a different sort of people than he had been used to. Wilberforce began to enjoy the company of some Quaker misfits. Not exactly the most promising allies, perhaps, but he thought they were people of conviction.
These Quakers would eventually plant ideas in Wilberforce’s mind that may seem rather quaint today. Wilberforce, for instance, would concern himself with laws against excessive drinking, pornography, and Sunday papers. But then, he also fought against capital punishment and founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. All of this, however, is trivial compared to the monumental change he brought to mankind: The abolition of slavery in the British Empire.