William Wilberforce tries Respectful Discourse

(The Chair of the Charity Commission, Orlando Fraser, has just suggested that charities should adopt a kind, respectful style of discourse even on issues where debate is fierce. Here goes.)

                                  House of Commons, 1805

My dear Slave Traders and Plantation Owners,

It is my sincere wish to enter into a friendly dialogue with you about possible problems posed by the slave trade and slavery, as I feel sure that reasonable men can find common ground in a kindly and respectful manner.

I am sorry that some of my more excitable colleagues have been using language such as “evil”, “inhumane” and even “un-Christian” about what I acknowledge to be established and legitimate means of pursuing trade and cultivation of crops that bring great benefits to many of our fellow countrymen. And I know there are many devout Christian men among you whose wish is to play your part in God’s plan as you understand it.

But perhaps I could ask you to think and pray about one or two drawbacks that may unintentionally arise from your chosen enterprises?

I understand your view that people of a different race from Africa should not be expected to aspire to the same level of comfort and liberty as ourselves. But may I be permitted to suggest that this view is not universally shared?

May I ask you to consider also that some devout and knowledgeable people have a different view of what God’s plan is, and that to treat human beings as if they were no better than animals[too provocative – WW] regard people as the property of other men is becoming somewhat contentious (notwithstanding, as I must acknowledge, the apparent acceptance of slavery in part of the Good Book).

May I also surmise that the loss of many slaves from slave ships through disease and death must be of some concern to you as men of commerce, as well as to people of my persuasion?

In this truly respectful spirit, I should like to propose a meeting at your convenience in the Reform Club, or at my home in Clapham, to see where common ground can be found in this matter, as I am sure we share a desire to avoid noisy and dangerous manifestations such as demonstrations or Parliamentary debate which can become unpleasantly heated.

Your most humble servant,


[Unfortunately, I have received no reply to this courteous letter – WW]


5 thoughts on “William Wilberforce tries Respectful Discourse

  1. Dear Andrew,


    div>This is brilliant and makes the point very powerfully. But I didn’t understand the purpose of the crossed out secti


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s