William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, headed the movement to end slavery in the British Empire. He succeeded. Slave trade was abolished in 1810 and slaves in the empire were emancipated in 1833.
Wilberforce was an excellent orator and a Methodist man of faith. He used the Bible to elicit compassion and justice for those enslaved. The world still suffers the legacy of the evil from slavery; slavery defines the United States. Rascism is so common that it is hardly recognized, but William Wilberforce is considered an icon in the struggle for human equality.
The movie, The Long Shadow, produced and narrated by Frances Causey, suggests that the Abolition Movement in England was a reason for the American colonies breaking away from the British Empire. In 1772, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, publicly opposed slavery as well as Adam Smith – father of free trade capitalism. Faith groups such as the Quakers, Unitarians and the Moravians opposed slavery as well. Former slaver and friend of William Wilberforce, Capton John Newton, was against slavery from his experience of the horror on his ships and his subsequent conversion. Newton became an Anglican priest and wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.
The fear of losing slavery, which was the basis of the colonial economy and source of wealth for the ambitious revolutionaries, was an incentive for military action to separate from the British Empire.
I was surprised when I asked a woman from Kenya who was educated in the United Kingdom what she thought of Wilberforce. She commented, “Oh, he was just another colonialist.” She had a point. Wilberforce was instrumental in setting up a colony in Sierra Leone, and insisted that missionaries be allowed in India to preach the Christian Gospel. His efforts in Haiti undermined England’s colonial rival France.
The Christian Gospel of Wilberforce’s understanding lacked the broad vision of analysis that ferrets out causes. The move from mercantilism to free trade capitalism was not the answer for poverty stricken workers, black and white, who had no voice in changing the colonial system.
In the 1960’s the Black Panthers considered African Americans as an internal colony of the U.S. Donald Trump and the Republicans with their policy of re-segregation are re-establishing that internal colony.
The 1886 Haymarket hero Samuel Fielden explained in his autobiography which he wrote from Chicago’s Cook County Jail that as a young worker in England he sympathized with U.S. slaves. He emigrated to the U.S. and visited the southern U.S. after the civil war and the emancipation. He saw the situation of black workers as being no better than the lives of slaves. “…the Negro was held in as absolute bondage as he was before the war.”
Our current situation of racism, income inequality, world poverty and violation of the earth’s resources demonstrates that Wilberforce, immersed in Evangelism and the culture of the British Empire, provided only a beginning in seeking justice for the modern industrial world. The collapse of the industrial world that we now experience and the ‘end of work’ requires Amazing Grace for new creativity to save the planet and achieve justice for all.
Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce and the heroic campaign to end slavery, Eric Metaxas.
The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, ed. Phillip S. Foner.
Black against Empire, Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.
The End of Work, Jeremy Rifkin.
Movie: The Long Shadow, Frances Causey, film maker and investigative reporter