William Wilberforce: The Christian Politician
A Look at How His Faith Influenced His Career and the Abolishment of Slavery
“They took me in the night, ripped me away from my family. Tried my wrists and took my dignity. I was sold for coins like we sell cattle; my ‘owner’ led me to a ship with hundreds more like me, I was cuffed to another, feet to wrists to neck. We were forced on board and sent in between decks and into apartments. As we set out for sea and the days pass, at night I lay in my own waste and during the day I feel nothing but pain and hear nothing but the splash of the waves and the moaning of the others” (Falconbridge 1788) (Ioan Gruffudd 2006). This account of the experience of a slave does not come close to enforcing the reality of the brutality of what these slaves went through. This is, however, what William Wilberforce spent his entire political career, and until his death, to abolish. Through his faith and prominence in the British government in the late 1700s through to the early 1800s he was determined to end this brutality against fellow human beings. In the film Amazing Grace, Wilberforce’ political career was depicted as a great success by his belief in God, his determination, ability to speak in public persuasively with prominence and passion, and the support of his friends and wife; and in this success he was able to fulfill his dream and calling to forever abolish slave trade in the British Empire. In the 2006 film Amazing Grace, director Michael Apted, tells the story of William Wilberforce and his journey from becoming an evangelical Christian and politician, through his movement in parliament for the abolishment of slavery to his success in the abolishment and his death. His character and career is beautifully depicted through his acts and in the way works his way through British parliament in order to fulfill his dream (or calling) of ending the transatlantic slave trade. The film also depicts the influence different people had in his life as a Christian politician. Since his birth in 1759 he lived in pre-Victorian England until his death in 1833. He was actively taking part in parliament from 1780 to 1825, which was time where the upper-class expressed outward Christianity, but also took part in gambling and duelling (White 2008). In 1787 was when Wilberforce seriously started to take part in government; wrote in his diary: "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners" (Windschuttle 2008) (Colson and Morse 2007); these are the two things he would eventually make a great difference in. At the start of his career in 1780, Wilberforce was just like the other upper-class men in high positions. He visited gentleman’s clubs almost every night, gambling and drinking late into the night. He also became famous for singing at the parties he went to and had a good singing voice (Windschuttle 2008). Wilberforce converted to evangelical Christianity at the age of twenty six. “He underwent a process of self-examination, doubt, agony and awakening” (Windschuttle 2008). In the film, he was sitting in a field behind his house early in the morning. He was confused, but sure that faith was the path he was supposed to take, and he professed this in a letter to his good friend and soon to be Prime Minister of England, William Pitt (Ioan Gruffudd 2006). Pitt wanted Wilberforce on his side in government, so he introduced him to some people, including Thomas Clarkson, a slave trade abolitionist all over the world, and Olaudah Equiano, an African who was taken into slavery as a child, bought his freedom and wrote an account of his own experiences in his autobiography called The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equian. This introduction would be the beginning of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It was this new committee that opened Wilberforce’s eyes to the possibility of combining his...
Bibliography: Colson, Charles, and Anne Morse. "The Wilberforce Strategy: Britain 's great abolitionist worked to change society 's values, not just its laws." Christianity Today, 2007: 132-318.
Falconbridge, Alexander. An Account of Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa. London: James Phillips, 1788.
Amazing Grace. Directed by Michael Apted. Performed by Albert Finney, Michael Gambon Ioan Gruffudd. 2006.
White, John. "Christian Responsibility to Reform Society: the Example of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect." Paternoster Periodicals, 2008: 166-172.
Windschuttle, Keith. "William Wilberforce: The Great Emancipator." New Criterion, 2008: 17-24.
[ 1 ]. I made this viewpoint up, with the help of the contents in “An Account of the Slave Trade from the Coast on the Africa” as well as Olaudah Equiano’s account in Amazing Grace.
[ 2 ]. It was important for them to connect with the upper-class because that’s where the money and power was, both in terms of authority and of trend. Lower-classes were also reached by Wilberforce and his team and showed great success in changing their society (White 2008).
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