Clapham sect. An influential evangelical network whose activity in the early 19th cent. found a base in Clapham, where ten of them are commemorated in the parish church. Often attributed to Sydney Smith, the name was popularized and perhaps coined by Sir James Stephen in the Edinburgh Review (1844). The banker Henry Thornton (1760–1815) and his family provided the Clapham core but the ‘sect's’ dominant figure, their kinsman William Wilberforce, also lived there (1797–1808), as did Zachary Macaulay (1768–1838) from 1803 to 1819, Lord Teignmouth (1751–1834) from 1802 to 1818, and John Venn (1759–1813), Clapham's rector from 1797. The original group, ranging from Granville Sharp, the oldest, to Thomas Clarkson, the last survivor, provided some 60 years of public service. Their commercial, legal, and administrative experience took them naturally into Parliament where their humanitarian concerns introduced an unusual but ineradicable note at a time when such reforms were regarded as business for individual members rather than government. Their greatest victories were the abolition of the slave trade (1807) and of slavery itself in the British empire (1833), but their influence was decisive in promoting Christian missions in India and west Africa and in supporting such bodies as the Tract (1799) and Bible (1804) societies at home. Mostly Anglican and significantly Tory, their links with Whigs and dissenters confirm their importance as midwives of humanitarian reform.
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