William Wilberforce and Amazing Grace
William Wilberforce was born in Hull, the son of Robert Wilberforce (1728–1768), a wealthy merchant whose father William (1690–1776) had made the family fortune through the Baltic trade and had been elected mayor of Hull on two occasions.
While still at the university, having little interest in returning to be involved in the family business, Wilberforce junior decided to seek election to Parliament and stood in the General Election of 1780. In September 1780, at the age of twenty-one, he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Hull.
In 1785 Wilberforce underwent a spiritual encounter which he described as a conversion experience. He resolved to commit his future life and work wholly in the service of God. One of the people he received advice from was John Newton, the leading evangelical Anglican clergyman, and author of the hymn "Amazing Grace". All those he sought advice from, including Prime Minister William Pitt, counselled him to remain in politics.
In 1787, compelled by his strong Christian faith, Wilberforce was introduced to Thomas Clarkson and the growing group campaigning against the slave trade, and was persuaded to become leader of the parliamentary campaign of the "Committee for the Abolition of Slave Trade".
In April 1791, Wilberforce introduced the first Parliamentary Bill to abolish the slave trade, which was easily defeated by 163 votes to 88. As Wilberforce continued to bring the issue of the slave trade before Parliament, Clarkson continued to travel and write. Between them, Clarkson and Wilberforce were responsible for generating and sustaining a national movement which mobilised public opinion as never before.
Public attitudes towards slavery and the slave trade began to shift, and the early years of the nineteenth century saw greater prospects for abolition.
Finally, as tributes were made to Wilberforce, who had laboured for the cause during the preceding twenty years, an abolition bill was carried by 283 votes to 16 on 23 February 1807. The Slave Trade Act received royal assent on 25 March of that year.
Although most remembered for his work towards the abolition of slavery, Wilberforce was also concerned with other matters of social reform. He wrote in his personal journals, "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners."
It was at the suggestion of Wilberforce, together with Bishop Porteus and other churchmen, that the Archbishop of Canterbury requested King George III to issue his Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice in 1787, which he saw as a remedy for what he saw as the rising tide of immorality and vice.
To commemorate the 200th anniversary abolotion of slavery, the life and work of Wilberforce has now been captured in the just-released film entitled Amazing Grace
A short BBC video presentation of the life of William Wilberforce and the hymn Amazing Grace can be accessed by <clicking here>.
CARE's web site also gives further information about William Wilberforce.
If you would like to send a request to Vue cinema (in Inverness) to screen the film <click here>.