On this day in 1833 William Wilberforce died. On August 1, 1833 slavery became illegal in the British Empire. Passage of this law had been a decades-long goal of Wilberforce.
Wilberforce was a religious man and an effective politician. Abolition of slavery was only one of his many parliamentary and social causes. Most of which he practically advanced.
This week several steps are being taken to potentially amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Wilberforce Act). Several have pointed to this law as the cause of the surge of children presenting at the US border. It is seldom so simple.
The life of Wilberforce demonstrates the potential of law — and law-makers — to advance the boundaries of human justice. Ethical, economic, and political complications also challenged Wilberforce. But his life in politics is a model for the practical, patient, persistent — courageous and insistent — application of legislative give-and-take. He always tried to elicit the best from his allies and adversaries, saying, “Be happy, and your joyful work will prosper well.”
Given our current challenges at the border and elsewhere, another Wilberforce quote seems especially relevant: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.”