Thursday, October 16, 2008

Book Review: William Wilberforce-The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Campaigner

I've happily spent the past couple of weeks away from the sturm und drang of the presidential election immersed in the inspiring story of a very unusual politician: William Wilberforce who spent a lifetime advocating legislation making the British slave trade illegal.

Early in his long career Wilberforce experienced conversion to evangelical Christianity. He was tempted to retreat from public life but ultimately heeded the advice of his great friend, later Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger who wrote him, "Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple, and lead not to meditation only, but to action."

The long fight to outlaw the slave trade caused Wilberforce to consider retreating from the effort on several occasions, but it was always his conviction that he was following God's call that kept him from doing so. John Wesley wrote him on one such occasion, "Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils; but if God be for you who can be against you. All of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing."

The author, William Hague, served in different capacities in the British government, including serving as leader of the Conservative party. He is from Yorkshire, which is the county Wilberforce represented most of his career in the House of Commons. His experience and background in British politics and history (he also wrote an acclaimed biography of Wilberforce's great friend William Pitt the Younger) contribute to the authenticity of this biography.

Hauge persuasively argues that Wilberforce possessed an unusual combination of vision and the ability to make realistic compromises in order to advance that vision. His devout faith was winsome and drew people to him as he managed to live according to those principles in such a way that his character became his crowning glory. Hague concludes: "It is the combination of Wilberforce's achievements and his qualities that mark him out as a figure rare indeed...In the dark historical landscape of violence, treachery and hate, the life of William Wilberforce stands as a beacon of light, which the passing of two centuries has scarcely dimmed."

Wilberforce never wearied of well-doing. Would we could say that about any modern politican. This biography should be required reading for every member of Congress.


Presbyterian Gal said...

Thanks for this! It's a great thing to remember that history is the best place to look for answers for today's problems.

Wilberforce sounds like a wonderful example for us today as a statesman and a Christian.

Teri said...

QG, how would you say the book compares to the movie Amazing Grace? Obviously it must be more in depth, but how else would you compare them?

Quotidian Grace said...


The movie depicts Wilberforce in the same way that the book does. Both show him as a devout Christian whose political positions and lifestyle reflected his faith. The book places that struggle in its historical context which of course the movie didn't have time to do. Since the book is an autobiography, it describes his early life and conversion as well as his life after the abolition of the trade.

I was inspired to read the book by the movie and was not disappointed. The movie nicely compliments the book.