How Christianity Ended Slavery in the UK

John Newton, the great hymn writer, was a mentor to Wilberforce in his abolitionist efforts

England was the first nation in Europe to permanently ban slavery and the slave trade. This movement really set the stage for the world. The decision by England to free slaves globally (they were a massive empire at the time) was a huge moral statement that spoke to Christians and non-Christians alike around the world. 

Who led the English abolition movement? It was, without debate, the Evangelicals. William Wilberforce, John Wesley, John Newton and Granville Sharp made freeing the slaves part of their religious call for the reform of England's morals. Their efforts were amazingly successful and England's popular denouncement of slavery put pressure on the less devout. Their efforts led  Lord Melbourne to complain, "Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.”

Wilberforce was so popular globally that he had a profound effect on both the religious and the irreligious. Both Lincoln and Frederick Douglas (neither particularly devout) acknowledged this evangelical hero as an essential part of the foundation of abolition. Wilberforce was acknowledged by President Lincoln as one that “every school boy” in America knew. Frederick Douglass was more effusive as he saluted Wilberforce and his friends:

“[They] finally thawed the British heart into sympathy for the slave, and moved the strong arm of government in mercy to put an end to this bondage. Let no American, especially no colored American, withhold generous recognition of this stupendous achievement—a triumph of right over wrong, of good over evil, and a victory for the whole human race."

Christians led the first major abolition movement in the world in perhaps the most powerful country (the UK) and did it peacefully. They then went on to work to end slavery in other nations. They pressured trading partners, policed the Atlantic to stop slave ships, and all subsequent abolition movements (that varied in terms of Christian leadership) followed this one.


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