"The happiest day I had then spent in my life." The words of Thomas Clarkson when he learned that Wilberforce had agreed to the request of Prime Minister Pitt to lead the Parliamentary Campaign for the abolition of the Slave Trade.
Clarkson and his fellow abolitionists had recognised the need for a strong, nationally respected voice in Parliament to achieve the legislation necessary for their cause to succeed. Encouraged by this news, the abolitionists at once formed The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. So came into being a long and friendly collaboration in which the evidence amassed by Clarkson was used to great effect in the Commons by Wilberforce as he pressed repeatedly over the next 20 years for action. Success came In 1807 with a Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
Thinking its work done, the committee of 1787 was dissolved in the expectation that stopping the trade would result in an end to slavery itself. It became clear within a few years that this was not to be. In 1823 a new campaign was launched with the formation of The Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Dominions. The aim now was not the cessation of trade in new slaves, but the freeing of those already enslaved. Although fully committed to this campaigning, Wilberforce was now in poor health. He retired from parliament before its conclusion and made a last appearance at a society meeting in May 1830. The work continued and success was achieved finally on 26th July 1833 with the second reading of the Abolition Bill just 3 days before the death of Wilberforce.
The fight against slavery continues however and is wider in scope. In 1839, The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society for the Universal Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed. It is this charity now known as Anti-Slavery International, which continues today to combat modern slavery. Slavery now defined by the United Nations as "the status or condition of a person over whom any or all the powers attaching to right of ownership are exercised" - a definition which encompasses bonded or debt bondage and the trafficking in women and children which among others are still gross violations of human rights today.
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