Monday, September 24, 2007

Wilberforce - the greatest ever Englishman?


I am currently reading 'William Wilberforce – a biography' by Stephen Tomkins.

The book mainly catalogues Wilberforce’s long battle to abolish the slave trade and then slavery itself.

There were many disappointments and defeats along the way for Wilberforce as the politicians of the day found reasons to defend the slave trade – based purely on financial grounds.

One of the many lessons from the life of Wilberforce is that if you have a vision - never give up on it. It may take a life time to achieve but if your cause is just then it is worth fighting for.

The slave trade was finally abolished 200 years ago in 1807 and the first commons motion Wilberforce put forward was in 1789. It took him 18 years to get a majority in the House of Commons but he never gave up fighting to abolish something he believed was inhumane.

Slavery itself was finally abolished in 1833 and Wilberforce died three days later – a lifetime’s ambition fulfilled.

How many of us give up on our big idea?

Who knows what might have happened had we kept going.

2 comments:

David Wike said...

“Many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” So said Thomas Edison. I imagine that the invention of the light bulb didn’t happen without perseverance so he probably said this with some feeling.

The sad thing is that Wilberforce didn’t really abolish the slave trade. As we know, it is still rife around the globe and is just as lucrative for those who organise it. The only difference is that in the civilised world it is now illegal.

Trevor, perhaps you will permit me to add an extract from one of my Random Ramblings earlier this year.

28th March 2007

When Sir Stuart Hampson was interviewed on retiring from the chairmanship of the John Lewis Partnership (which also owns Waitrose), he claimed that the reason for the success of the business and the high level of customer and employee satisfaction was the fact that all permanent staff are partners in the business. All 60+ thousand employees have a say in the running of the business and a share of the profits. This enlightened approach was first introduced by John Spedan Lewis in 1914, so it is no modern day ‘trendy’ initiative, but an integral and fundamental way of doing business.

How this contrasts with the lot of many thousands of employees in China. It is ironic that at a time when we are commemorating the abolition of the slave trade that it is actually ‘flourishing’ in modern day China. Although the state has legislation in place to protect employees’ basic rights, it is frequently ignored by many large companies. In many cases the unfortunate employees of these companies are effectively held captive and are forced to work in inhuman and dangerous conditions.

We are increasingly urged to ask our food suppliers about the origins of their produce to ensure that it comes from ethical or environmentally sustainable sources. Perhaps it is time that we started asking the same of suppliers of toys, electrical goods, in fact anything originating in China.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks David and I have seen that Edison quote before - I agree with it fully.

Sadly you are right about modern day slavery but remember Wilberforce risked life (literally) and limb in those days to abolish something that was seen as 'right' for the economy of the day by the powers that be.

I find it ironic and very sad that the world today is considered so much more advanced and intelligent and yet we stand by and watch as poverty and slavery continue – I hate to think what will our great great grandchildren will say about us?

Recently when asked who was the greatest ever Englishman the Archbishop of Canterbury replied with out hesitation ‘William Wilberforce' - some testimonial I would say.

Thanks also for your ramblings extract - very pertinent.