slave-tradeOn this day 206 years ago, the Slave Trade Act 1807, with the long title “An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade”, received Royal Assent and passed into law, ending the slave trade in the British Empire, although not ending slavery itself. The anti-slavery lobby had been working towards this end for 20 years, starting in earnest in 1787 when a group of Evangelical Christians had formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

The parliamentarian William Wilberforce became a leading advocate of the abolition cause, and in 1791 he introduced a Bill to abolish the slave trade, which was defeated by 163 votes to 88. The following year he introduced another Bill, but it was amended to a compromise solution of gradual abolition over a number of years, rendering it ineffective. In 1793 another Bill was defeated by just 8 votes.

In subsequent years, progress was slow because of war with France. In 1804 another Bill to abolish the slave trade passed through the House of Commons but ran out of time to be passed through the House of Lords, and the Bill was defeated in 1805 when reintroduced. A breakthrough was achieved in 1806 with an Act outlawing the supply of slaves to French colonies, and in 1807 the Slave Trade Bill finally passed through both the House of Lords and the House of Commons by a large margin.

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