Because of a campaign led by an Evangelical Christian politician, William Wilberforce, who believed all men were created equal under God, the British Government finally banned slavery in most of its empire in 1834.
Ironically, it was a year after Wilberforce died.
But here is a little-known fact, as part of this banning, the British government freed all the slaves by buying them off their slave owners, paying the equivalent of 17 billion pounds in today’s dollars.
To do this, it had to borrow money and the last of that debt, plus interest, was paid off in 2015.
USA News provides more details:
“In 1833, Britain used 40% of its national budget to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire. Britain borrowed such a large sum of money for the Slavery Abolition Act that it wasn’t paid off until 2015,” a graphic posted by the political activist Raheem Kassam reads.
“This means that living British citizens helped pay for the end of the slave trade with their taxes,” the graphic continues. The post has been shared almost 20,000 times.
READ: Fact check: United Kingdom finished paying off debts to slave-owning families in 2015
William Wilberforce’s spiritual journey
Wilberforce has been described as one of the most significant people in Britain’s history.
Christianity.org.uk, a Christian organization based in Britain, provided more information on Wilberforce’s spiritual awakening, writing:
Wilberforce’s spiritual life took a new direction when he went on a tour of Europe in 1784-5. He travelled with his mother, sister and Isaac Milner, the brother of his former head teacher, who was an evangelical Christian like his Aunt Hannah. Wilberforce’s faith was reignited: he began to get up early, pray and keep a spiritual journal. He turned his back on his previous lifestyle. He shut himself away from his friends for months, while he studied the Bible and religious books. He gave up dancing, theatre and society parties and decided to put his life to better use.
He considered giving up parliament to become a priest. But John Newton, the Anglican clergyman best known for writing ‘Amazing Grace’, persuaded him to stay on and put his Christian faith into practice there. At that time Britain was one of several European countries which transported slaves from Africa to the Caribbean and America. At the peak of the trade, Britain was transporting 40,000 slaves a year, chained up on filthy, disease-ridden ships. Campaigning to stop the slave trade had begun in the early 1780s with the setting up of Quaker anti-slavery committees. But the protestors needed someone in parliament to drive through a change in the law. Wilberforce was encouraged by abolitionist campaigners such as Thomas Clarkson, Hannah More and Charles Middleton and by William Pitt to take the lead.
READ: William Wilberforce