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Rhetorical Analysis of William Wilberforce Abolition Speech

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University of Richmond
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The speech of William Wilberforce to the British parliament persuasively applies rhetorical techniques it was delivered by use of imagery, emotions and appealing reasoning research that the writer displayed. He used all the convincing tactics in his speech to give a reason for the abolition of the trade. He delivered a speech that was meant to be sufficient to the audience, in the speech William uses a rhetorical style where he uses the experienced torture of the slaves to appeal to the parliament to consider their stand. His speech is more emotional and appealing in the sense that he makes the legislature reflect on the experiences of the slaves and review their decision from the point of knowledge. This speech is said to be useful in the quest for abolition which William Wilberforce had advocated for long. The speech is much persuasive in the manner in which it was delivered; it was meant to persuade the parliament to abolition the slave trade due to humane reasons. William believed by appealing to the human consciousness of his audience would bear results for his intention to abolish the slave trade. He uses pathos and ethos to persuade the parliament to view slave trade as a cruel injustice.

Speech summary

The speech starts by talking about the magnitude and the nature of the matter that was being presented to the parliament. William Wilberforce is one of the members of the house tells the members that the issue was not only for the benefit of Europe but the whole world at large. He appeals to the parliament to consider their logical reasoning to accept his bill to abolish the slave trade. He went ahead to describe what slaves encountered from west African up to the Indies; he refers to Clarkson's research on the difficulties the slaves go through at the hands of their masters. He uses emotional appeal and imagery to appeal to the parliament to consider their stand and adopt his abolition bill. The entire speech of William Wilberforce mostly attracted to the emotional and logical reasoning of each member of the parliament to consider abolition. Being a member of the same legislature, he expresses his disappointment on his part as a member not to be part of the law that allows slave trade. His speech is concluded by appealing to each member to consider their position from the point of knowledge he had shared with the parliament.


The ethos of William Wilberforce speech was built on his research on the life of slaves during the trade. He persuaded the parliament members by questioning the credibility of their ethics on human life. William gave reasons why slave trade was not inhumane; he offered sufficient reasons for his stand. He had accurate information as per Clarkson research on how slaves were used as entertainment tools. In the speech, he says the songs that the slaves sang were sorrowful and portrayed their lives. He makes it clear that they entertained their masters for fear of their lash. William states " As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my mind was made up on abolition." He uses this to show that he had adequate research on the lives of slaves and he had already made his mind to abolish the trade. He also talked about the mortality rate that was reported due to the slave trade. He was well informed on the slave trade from Africa to the West Hides. He also says that he had talked to the people who carried out the trade and he was convinced of the inhuman nature of the trade. William uses ethos to relay information as a way of convincing the parliamentarians to vote for his bill of the abolition of slave trade. William is well versed in the life of the slaves during the business and on the hands of their masters; he uses this information as a way to persuade the members to abolish the slave trade.


Pathos is the emotional appeal to the audience to persuade them to buy your idea of thought. William being an English scholar utilized his mastery in rhetorical techniques to use emotional persuasion in his speech for his abolition bill to pass. His word choice was critical in the speech to appeal to the sensitive side of the audience. He uses words that portray the image of suffering among the slaves on the hands of the masters. He even goes further to relate the conditions of the slaves to bring a clear picture of slave torture that the members were not aware of. He speaks of how the slaves could not sing happy songs because of the emotional torment they had gone through in their lives. In his word choice, William states, "Let anyone imagine to himself 6 or 700 of these wretches chained two and two, surrounded with every object that is nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and struggling under every kind of wretchedness! How can we bear to think of such a scene like this?" He chooses scenes that give emotional challenge and appeal to the members to abolish the trade. William's speech is presented in a sensitive manner that seeks sympathy for the slaves from the members of parliament. It is a powerful tool of persuasion that is used to explore attention to the torture that the slaves go through on the hands of their masters.


William Wilberforce in his abolition speech he used logos as a rhetoric technique by use of logical arguments on the slave trade. He gave valid reasons that were behind his move to advocate for abolition. He gave evidence from his rational point of view to persuade the members. William gave reasons for the abolition of slave trade such as the high mortality rate reported in the slave trade. The cruel nature of the trade itself since it involved beating and forced labor. He appeals to the logical thinking of the parliamentarians though they are politicians. He believes they need to search for their human thinking to come to terms with the abolition of slave trade. He talks about the real life of slaves at the voyage and the sugar-coated narrative that the members were made to believe in. He explains of the hardships they went through; he defined went ahead to tell their singing and dances they performed. He gave a clear picture under what conditions the dances took place; the slaves sand and danced for fear of lash. He is openly appealing to the logic thinking of members to abolish the slave trade.


The use of rhetorical techniques by William Wilberforce in his abolition speech in parliament was meant to persuade the audience to vote for his abolition bill. His application of ethos, pathos, and logos shows he had an excellent knowledge of his audience and knew how to appeal to them to abolish slave trades. He is consistent in his speech and fluent as he gives reasons why they should be compelled to remove the trade. He is convinced that slave trade is inhuman and he seeks to persuade the members of parliament to agree with him. His speech is crafted from the point of knowledge and mastery of literature which is evident in the use of rhetorical techniques.

Work Cited

Betty; Mickey Cate. Abolition speech by William Wilberforce 2008; on 11/11/2017

Carey, Brycchan. "The Rhetoric of Sensibility." British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2005. 18-45. Accessed from on 11/11/2017 Accessed on11/11/2017

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