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Letters to the editor >

Slave-trade abolition was a joint effort

From Ellen Gibson Wilson

Sir, — Your headlines (17 February) refer to the "bicentenary of the Wilberforce Act" (Leader comment) and the "Wilberforce bicentenary" (General Synod).

The 1807 Act abolishing the slave trade was in fact masterminded through Parliament by Lord Grenville. Wilberforce’s great oratory and persistence in the cause contributed hugely, but the 1807 Act was passed by a new administration riding the crest of an unprecedented public campaign led by Thomas Clarkson.

The slave-trade abolition campaign was the first human-rights movement in history — to quote my biography of Clarkson. More recent studies, notably Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains (2005), conclude that Wilberforce and Clarkson were "one of history’s great partnerships". They were seen as joint leaders in their day.

Success was also due to the thousands of men and women who petitioned Parliament, gave up sugar, and filled meeting halls to denounce the injustice of the slave trade and slavery itself.

19 Aldwark, York YO1 7BX

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