Canada is Free and Freedom is Its Nationality

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Event Blogging the Wilberforce Weekend: Amazing Grace

Please Note: This is a summary of the events and speeches in my own words for educational, information, and entertainment purposes only. It is not the speakers' exact words and should not be taken as such. It also may contain errors due to the nature of the medium. I am not responsible for any of them, use at your own risk and consult the official videos and/or audio record if you want to verify or quote anything.

The movie opens with William Wilberforce driving along the road. He is sick but he stops to intervene when he sees a horse being ruthlessly beaten.

He has been fighting slavery for years with no success. Now he has nightmares about slavery, haunted by his failure to stop it. Tormented about what he ought to be doing but isn't.

At that point he meets a girl by the name of Barbara.

The movie goes back in time to Wilberforce's early days in Parliament, before he became involved in slavery debates. He is arguing about England's strategy in the American Revolution. Afterwards he joins other MPs in a game of cards. As one of his opponents runs out of money, he offers his slave in lieu of money. Sickened at the whole incident, Wilberforce leaves. Pitt comes out after him and tells him that he needs to change himself before he can change the world. Wilberforce decides to take a stand, goes back into the club and standing on the table, sings Amazing Grace.

In a new scene, Wilberforce has a religious experience. He was lying on the wet grass and marvelling at nature because "God found me". It is inconvenient, he has a political career, but he just wants to marvel at spider webs.

Wilberforce thinks of becoming a preacher instead of a politician but he is not sure. Pitt tells him that he plans to become Prime Minister. No one of our age has ever taken power says Wilberforce. Counters Pitt, Which is why we are to young to know that certain things are impossible. So we'll do them anyway. Do you want to use your voice to praise God or change the world?

Pitt invites several guest to come to Wilberforce's home for dinner. Wilberforce doesn't know why they are coming. The guests show him chains and tell him about the slave trade. They tell him that he can do both the work of God and the work of a political activist by opposing the slave trade. Pitt hopes to get Wilber to stay in politics because Pitt wants to become Prime Minister and needs Wilberforce's help.

Wilberforce is unsure. He goes to visit his old pastor, John Newton, who wrote "Amazing grace" and is an ex-slave trader. John Newton is mopping the floor, dressed in rough cloth. Newton says that Wilberforce has work to do. He should not choose a life of solitude. Newton lives with the ghosts of 20,000 slaves. Wilberforce wants to hear about the slave trade but Newton can't face telling his testimony. He tells Wilberforce to fight the slave traders. He warns Wilberforce that he will get dirty, he will dream it, but for God's sake to do it, stop them.

Thomas Clarkson, a revolutionary and anti-slavery activist visits. When he comes in Wilberforce is in box made to the dimensions of a slave berth.

The movie moves forward in time again. Wilberforce gets a letter from Jamaica about the horrific conditions there.

He meets Barbara again. They decide to have an argument but find out that they agree on everything. Barbara tells about how she followed his campaign as a girl and enthusiastically supported all of it. Wilber gets angry because after all the petitions and efforts they have had no success. Barbara urges him to talk about the campaign.

The movie goes back in time again. Wilberforce goes to the India dock with Equiano to see a slave ship.

Wilber makes his first speech about slavery in the house of commons. There are vigorous protests from other MPs. They protest that slavery brings in great revenue and if the British stopped then the French would just take over.

Wilberforce calls a meeting of supporting MPs and activists. Almost no one shows up. He says we are talking about truth, so should spread truth everywhere in every way. Fox, a vigorous opponent of Wilberforce in other matters, shows up to support him.

Pitt then gets elected Prime Minister.

A group of MPs are taken on a yacht with a music group and lavish refreshments. As they sail along they are taken beside a slave ship on which 400 out of 600 slaves died on the journey to the Indies. They see chains and smell the stench of death from the ship.

Wilberforce's friends spent the winter gathering evidence. Equiano published his book which sold like wildfire. People boycotted slave sugar. The activists had to fight rumours and gossip about them.

Wilberforce is taken ill with colitis as he begins his campaign.

They brought up the bill a year later. The MPs bring objections, that there is no evidence that the Africans object to the trade. or that the ordinary English people object. Wilber brings a petition signed by 390,000 people. Fox, to great objection, signs his name. The opponents ask for time to examine all the signatures. They are given time.

Dundas, another MP, suggests that change should be made gradually so as not to bankrupt the nation.

Clarkson gets involved with the French Revolution. This undermines Wilberforce because now he is associated with a violent foreign revolution and accusations of treason are considered substantiated even though Wilberforce refuses to support any revolution.

God has set before Wilberforce two great aims; the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of society. Wilber is taken very ill. Becomes addicted to opium to control the pain. This is now five years after the first bill is brought forward.

Pitt warns Wilberforce about his revolutionary friends. Threatens him.

The threat of revolutionary France undermines all their work. Wilberforce is called a seditious traitor and no one will listen. Supporters faded away, died, were ineffectual, no one took an interest. Wilberforce basically gives up

Now the two time periods of the movie join. Barbara and Wilberforce get married. Pitt comes to the wedding and he and Wilberforce heal the breach between them. Pitt says that times are changing and things may be better for Wilberforce.

Wilberforce goes to visit Newton again who is writing his reminiscences. Newton recalls the beauty of the Africans' names. Says that they were the humans, the English were the apes.
Wilberforce finds Clarkson, gathers his friends. He is going to fight again. His friend comes from the Indies with statistics, accounts, etc. He tells how in the Indies there are rebellions. They are looking to Wilberforce and England for hope. Says that they are not doing enough. It is not a game.

Wilberforce's friend suggests an idea for winning the war against slavery. They pass a seemingly innocuous law which says that French ships sailing under American flags can be seized. This seemingly dull bill, so patriotic, so harmless, will strike a deathblow to slavery because 80% of all slave ships fly the American flag to avoid privateers. If the bill passed, no one, English or French, would be able to ship slaves because of the danger of seizure. It would bankrupt most of the slavers.

They get a boring MP to bring it forward so no one knows that the anti-slavery group is behind it. They arrange for most of the opposition MPs to be at a race track and they carry the bill.

Wilberforce breaks his addiction to laudanum because he cannot feel the joy of their victory.

William Pitt dies but he arranges his succession to make sure that Wilbur can win the battle against the slave trade.

They bring another bill to the house of commons. This time, it passes 283 to 16.

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