William Wilberforce was a classic liberal for his day who saw the abolition of the slave trade as producing 'free labour' and thus reducing costs for business. The end of slavery was required to end mercantilism and create the conditions for capitalism.
It is one of history’s enigmas that William Wilberforce, honoured in today’s bicentenary commemoration of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, did not share the same sense of outrage about the repression of British workers. The MP played a part in outlawing unions, introducing imprisonment without trial and reducing freedom of speech.
Wilberforce’s home town and political seat was Hull. Unlike many British ports, Hull was not dependent on slavery but on the Baltic trade that had made his family rich. So his campaign neither offended his family nor upset his constituents. And his wealth allowed him to follow his instincts as an independent Whig.
Wilberforce disarmingly argued that the owners of slave ships and plantations were not to blame for pursuing their lawful business, of which cruelty and inhumanity were the inevitable byproducts. Nation and parliament were to blame for making it lawful. Plantation owners had nothing to fear from abolition, he claimed, citing the death rate among slaves — and sailors — engaged in the trade.
After spending nearly £9,000 securing the goodwill of Hull, paying local merchants the standard 10 guineas each for their votes (other voters got £2), he was duly elected at the age of 21. Drink and the roulette tables began to pall and he fretted that he was wasting his life. Under the influence of Newton, now a rector in London, at 25 he became an evangelical, resolved to combat the evils of the day — sabbath-breaking, swearing, drunkenness and indecent books. The result was a Society for the Reformation of Manners that got books censored and moral reforms passed.
He was opposed to extending the vote to the working class, whose political aspirations he tried to curb through the Society for the Suppression of Vice and Encouragement of Religion.
"Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope. The power of hope upon human exertion, and happiness, is wonderful. The slave-master himself has a conception of it; and hence the system of tasks among slaves. The slave whom you can not drive with the lash to break seventy-five pounds of hemp in a day, if you will task him to break a hundred, and promise him pay for all he does over, he will break you a hundred and fifty. You have substituted hope, for the rod." Abraham Lincoln
Which is why to this day Free Labour is called wage slavery.
H/T to the Monarchist.
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