Cross-posted from Wallwritings
William Wilberforce played by Ioan Gruffudd
(image by Amazing Grace Movie)
In a scene from the 2006 movie, Amazing Grace, set during the lifetime (1759-1833) of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd, above), Wilberforce presents his anti-slave trade bill to the British Parliament.
It is a task he performs annually.
Wilberforce is following the advice of his former preacher, John Newton (played in the film by Albert Finney), author of the hymn, "Amazing Grace," who tells him that sometimes change occurs only through steady drips.
The purpose of Wilberforce's annual legislative "drip" is to eventually persuade the majority of the Parliament to make it illegal for British ships to transport slaves from Africa to the New World.
At a crucial turning point in the film, speaking to an indifferent body of law-makers, many of whom have financial ties to the shipping industry, Wilberforce begins his annual plea:
"It is with a heavy heart that I bring to the attention of this House a trade that degrades men to the level of brutes and insults the highest qualities of our human nature. I am speaking of the slave trade."
Immediately he is greeted with shouts of disapproval. Wilberforce continues:
"I know that many of my honorable friends in this House have investments in the Indies. Others are ship owners. And I believe them to be men of humanity. I believe you all to be men of humanity.
"If the wretchedness of any one of the many hundreds of slaves stowed in their ships could be brought to view there is no one among you who could bear it."
The bill fails. Wilberforce invites a few select members of the House to join him and a few of his abolitionist supporters for a meeting at his home.
The response is slight. Only one other Member of Parliament (MP), shows up.
That man is Sir William Dolben, who represents a constituency which does not depend on the slave trade for its economic well-being.
Wilberforce thanks Dolben for his presence. He then asks him to explain what prompted his decision to accept Wilberforce's invitation.
Dolben tells the group "he recently took passage from Sierra Leone aboard a slave ship."
"What I saw during those 15 days (he pauses, unable to describe what he saw. Then he continues) ...I believe there are plenty of others in the House of Commons who share your feelings, Wilberforce. They are just afraid to show it."
Wilberforce knows it is time to do more than drip away at the problem...