Tomorrow will be the 182nd anniversary of William Wilberforce’s death. His crusade to abolish slavery is a remarkable example of the power of perseverance.
Wilberforce was born into a wealthy family. He did not have to work to support himself, he enjoyed a university education. In common with most wealthy young men of that era, he spent much of his time partying and gambling.
First elected to the British Parliament in 1780 at the age of 21, he did not show much interest in the plight of slaves until his religious conversion in 1784 when he became an Evangelical Christian.
For the next 40 years, until his retirement in 1825, he worked to abolish slavery. He also campaigned for many other reforms, including the protection of women and children.
Never a healthy man and cursed by poor eyesight, he died on 29 July 1833, just 3 days after the House of Commons passed the Act abolishing slavery.
His achievements, struggles and acts of humanity are too numerous to list in this short post. The William Wilberforce Wikipedia entry records his amazingly generous life and acts of compassion.
For almost 40 years, he struggled to get bills passed in parliament, to overcome opposition from commercial and political players with vested interests in maintaining the slave trade, disinterest from large sections of the public and suspicion from the elite.
What makes his story more remarkable, is that he did not have to do any of it. He was wealthy, did not have to work to survive, he could have continued his former hedonistic lifestyle of drinking, partying and gambling his entire life without running out of money.
Why his perseverance to abolish slavery?
He had a cause, something that was bigger than himself. In his case he found his cause after a religious conversion. It gave his life purpose, a clear direction away from the superficial life of partying and gambling.
He stayed committed to that cause for 40 years, more than half his life. Despite illness, frail health, poor eyesight and none of the modern conveniences we consider essential today. He endured repeated setbacks, defeats of his bills in parliament, opposition from mainstream churches and accusations of disloyalty to his country.
Throughout it all, he persevered until he achieved his goal 3 days before he died.
In the modern world of endless distractions, many people have no purpose, cannot stay committed to a single cause, persevere at anything for 40 minutes, let alone 40 years.
Do you have a purpose in your life? A cause? Do you have the power of perseverance to achieve your goals?
Photo: By Karl Anton Hickel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons