February 23, 2007


Wilberforce and the Roots of Freedom: A great man of history whom we would do well to remember (Jonathan Bean, 2/23/07, National Review)

William Wilberforce is one of the great forgotten men of history. That will change, and Wilberforce will be simply one of the great men of history, when the remarkable new film Amazing Grace opens nationwide this weekend.

Amazing Grace commemorates the bicentennial of the British ban on the slave trade (1807), an antislavery movement led by Wilberforce. Without him, there would have been no end to the slave trade, certainly not in his time. And, without his conversion to Christianity, Wilberforce might have lived a forgettable life as a rich man's son. Instead, he helped give birth to new freedom in the British Empire, hope in America, and inspiration to abolitionists everywhere. Today, with slavery spreading in Africa and Asia, and an estimated 27 million in slavery worldwide, Amazing Grace is more than a period piece: It is a timely and enduring lesson on what one man can do to stop the spread of evil.

"Religion in politics" is a topic hot enough to spark a barroom brawl--or, at least, an inter-cubicle dispute. Yet there is no getting around the religious passion that fed abolitionism, or, for that matter, the later civil-rights movements. Slavery mocked the rhetoric of our Declaration of Independence, as abolitionists made clear. Yet many abolitionists in both Britain and America were also inspired to fight passionately against this injustice by the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. The fervor of abolitionism came from the New Testament, a body of literature providing the universal principles of natural law with which to attack slavery.

The story of the abolitionist movement really begins in Britain, where an unlikely Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce, courageously took up the cause of human emancipation, despite virtually universal opposition.

Had we retained the King and a formal relationship with Britain the South would likely have been shamed into giving up slavery without the Civil War.

Amazing Story: Eric Metaxas on the life of William Wilberforce: An NRO Q&A (Kathryn Lopez, 2/23/07, National Review)

William Wilberforce was a British abolitionist leader member of Parliament in the early 19th century. Largely well-known in limited circles, a new movie out today and book (soon to debut as a New York Times bestseller), both by the title Amazing Grace, hope to change that.

The author of the book, Eric Metaxas, recently took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez. [...]

Metaxas: Wilberforce practically invented what we would call a social conscience. And we can't bear the thought that we weren't always wonderful human beings who always cared for the poor and righted wrongs where we saw them. But we weren't! Today we argue about how. Conservatives say the private sector should take the lead and liberals say the government should take the lead. But we never ever argue about whether we should try to help the poor and the suffering. It's something that's become utterly taken for granted. But we shouldn't take it for granted, because before Wilberforce and his pioneering efforts in social reform, all of these ideas were quite foreign. Most "enlightened" Europeans and Americans were quite content to let poverty and suffering and inequalities alone, with no moral qualms about it. Wilberforce introduced the foreign notion from Scripture that we must use what we have to bless others -- however we do it. That was not a notion that leapt from the noble human breast, but from the pages of Scripture. And to be reminded of it makes us uncomfortable because it's rather humbling. Social Darwinism comes to us naturally, but social conscience came to us supernaturally, and in many ways via Wilberforce.

Lopez: That's quite the accomplishment. And what about slavery - that was no small matter.

Metaxas: Well of course history should revere him because he led the monumental and heroic Battle to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire -- and inspired and cajoled the rest of the European powers to do the same. He was a tireless advocate for the downtrodden in a day when it was completely unpopular. He was praised by Lincoln and by Frederick Douglass. They saw him as the great man that he was, and we do history a monstrous injustice in not seeing him as they did.

Hollywood's 'Amazing' Glaze: What the new movie covers up about William Wilberforce (CHARLOTTE ALLEN, February 23, 2007, Opinion Journal)
[W]William Wilberforce was driven by a version of Christianity that today would be derided as "fundamentalist." One of his sons, sharing his father's outlook, was the Anglican bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who wrote a passionate critique of "The Origin of the Species," arguing that Darwin's then-new theory could not fully account for the emergence of human beings. William Wilberforce himself, as a student at Cambridge University in the 1770s and as a young member of Parliament soon after, had no more than a nominal sense of faith. Then, in 1785, he began reading evangelical treatises and underwent what he called "the Great Change," almost dropping out of politics to study for the ministry until friends persuaded him that he could do more good where he was.

And he did a great deal of good, as Mr. Apted's movie shows. His relentless campaign eventually led Parliament to ban the slave trade, in 1807, and to pass a law shortly after his death in 1833, making the entire institution of slavery illegal. But it is impossible to understand Wilberforce's long antislavery campaign without seeing it as part of a larger Christian impulse. The man who prodded Parliament so famously also wrote theological tracts, sponsored missionary and charitable works, and fought for what he called the "reformation of manners," a campaign against vice. This is the Wilberforce that Mr. Apted has played down. [...]

Thanks to Wilberforce, the movement's most visible champion, Britain ended slavery well before America, but the abolitionist cause in America, too, was driven by Christian churches more than is often acknowledged. Steven Spielberg's 1997 "Amistad," about the fate of blacks on a mutinous slave ship, also obscured the Christian zeal of the abolitionists.

Nowadays it is all too common--and not only in Hollywood--to assume that conservative Christian belief and a commitment to social justice are incompatible. Wilberforce's embrace of both suggests that this divide is a creation of our own time and, so to speak, sinfully wrong-headed.

-REVIEW: Amazing Abolitionist: Amazing Grace shows Wilberforce in Action (Mark Moring, 02/22/07, Christianity Today)

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 23, 2007 8:01 AM

So who's starring in this movie then?

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at February 23, 2007 11:14 AM

With their emphasis on direct assistance to the poor and disadvantaged, liberal Democrats would appear to be better Christians than conservative Republicans.

Posted by: Ant at February 23, 2007 11:45 AM

This movie opened at the local multi-plex today and we were just discussing whether it would be something we'd like to see. Anyone have a recommendation?

Ant, sorry but that statement is too ridiculous for comment.

Posted by: erp at February 23, 2007 12:06 PM



The map at the bottom of the link is most instructive.

Interestingly, you can almost chart the decline of England by looking at the descendants of Wilberforce's evangelical Clapham set. They became England's intellectual elite in the 19th c and in fact Bloomsbury is in many respects it's heir -- Virginia Woolf's great-grandfather James Stephen was a close associate of Wilberforce in the Clapham Set.

How the mighty fall.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 23, 2007 12:20 PM


Hornblower himself -- Ioan Gruffudd.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 23, 2007 12:23 PM

Direct government assistance is an act of contempt, not love.

Posted by: oj at February 23, 2007 12:34 PM

starring Ioan Gruffudd, aka Horatio Hornblower. The movie trailer was shown in Sunday morning service last week, first I had heard of the movie. It looked well enough made that I would see it in the theater, but I only go 2-3 times in a year.

Posted by: flanman at February 23, 2007 12:43 PM

Erp, How is the liberal desire to mandate economic moraility and fairness while forcing people to be charitable any different than the conservative desire to mandate sexual morality and decency while forcing people to be chaste?

Posted by: Ant at February 23, 2007 12:50 PM

Starring Ioan Gruffudd, aka Horatio Hornblower. The movie trailer was shown in Sunday morning service last week, first I had heard of the movie. It looked well made, telling the story of him coming to his faith, realizing his duty, and his fight against the slave trade. I would see it in the theater, but I don't go often.

Posted by: flanman at February 23, 2007 12:53 PM

So how is the liberal desire to mandate economic morality and fairness while forcing people to be charitable any different than the conservative desire to mandate sexual morality and decency while forcing people to be chaste?

Posted by: BtC at February 23, 2007 12:58 PM

Forced charity! The Left really does exist only to amuse the rest of us.

Posted by: oj at February 23, 2007 1:06 PM

Ant, here is a hint:
When you stick a gun in somebody's ear and say "Give up your money", that is not charity--that's armed robbery.

It doesn't matter if the recipient of the money is the robber himself or someone he designates.

Posted by: ray at February 23, 2007 1:45 PM

Actually, the Left doesn't use guns, but prefers the Mafia method of "forced charity." pay your protection money (aka, taxes) and we won't send our thugs (aka IRS) out to break your legs (confiscate your possessions and liberty.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 23, 2007 2:16 PM

"Had we retained the King and a formal relationship with Britain the South would likely have been shamed into giving up slavery without the Civil War."

I'm not quite sure why this would be so.

The U.S. Congress outlawed the slave trade at the *same time* as Wilberforce convinced the British Parliament to do so (in fact, the U.S. legislation came first, by several weeks).

And the British didn't outlaw *slavery* until several more decades had passed, much as happened in the U.S.

Posted by: James at February 23, 2007 2:51 PM

Ant, This comment makes no more sense that the earlier one so, it's senseless to reply to it. However, I would like explain that individual words have meaning.

Certain sounds that we call words allow us to communicate to our fellows. So if you look up the words "forcing" and "desire" you will see they don't convey the same meaning to the English speaking world.

Posted by: erp at February 23, 2007 2:59 PM


OJ is indulging his monarchist tendencies. There still would have been a war. It just would have been Britain versus the South. With France intervening on the southern side.

Posted by: Brandon at February 23, 2007 3:39 PM

Wasn't Britain an early supporter of the Confederacy until the Northern blockades and the threat of open hostilities with Washington made them a bit more covert and ineffective in their operations?

Posted by: at February 23, 2007 4:39 PM

OJ, as amusing as forced chastity?

Or any forced morality?

Posted by: Ant at February 23, 2007 5:14 PM

It makes sense erp.

It's just that your head will explode if you realize that enforced morality is the same whether it's the left wanting to control wealth or the right wanting to control sex.

They are both two sides of the same coin and have more in common then they have differences.

Its a hard thing to realize that you are identical to that which you despise.

Posted by: Ant at February 23, 2007 5:19 PM

No Name,

Perhaps, but Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation were very important.

Posted by: jdkelly at February 23, 2007 5:51 PM

Antietam-Sharpsburg was by every military standard a Southern victory, for all that Lincoln pretended the opposite to create an occasion for the Emancipation Proclaimation.

The battle was a masterpiece of defensive maneuver, placing Lee with such as Frederick and Napoleon. One teaching a course on the Nine Principles of War could take examples of each from this battle alone.

The Robert Sears book, Landscape Turned Red, is probable the best of the many accounts of this damned near-run thing. When we get all weepy over Iraq, recall Shaprsburg, with that many casulties in the first few hours. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0618344195

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 23, 2007 6:27 PM