By the mid-18th century, European demand for sugar and tobacco had led to the development of extensive plantations in the Americas, particularly the West Indies.
These plantations were worked by enslaved Africans who were shipped across the Atlantic on slave ships. There was an intensive public campaign for the abolition of the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Prime minister Lord Grenville introduced the Slave Trade Abolition Bill in the House of Lords in January 1807. After consideration by the Lords the Bill arrived in the House of Commons on 10 February. William Wilberforce, after 18 years of promoting abolition, received a standing ovation during the key debate on 23 February.
The debate lasted ten hours and the vote did not take place until 4am the following day, when the House voted in favour of the Bill by 283 votes to 16 – a victory far in excess of expectations. The remaining stages took a further month to complete, and the Bill received Royal Assent on 25 March 1807.
Although the British had ended their slave trade, slavery itself continued in the British colonies until full emancipation was achieved in 1833.
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