Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

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Amazing Grace tells the story of the remarkable life of the British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833). This accessible biography chronicles Wilberforce's extraordinary role as a human rights activist, cultural reformer, and member of Parliament.

At the center of this heroic life was a passionate twenty-year fight to abolish the British slave trade, a battle Wilberforce won in 1807, as well as efforts to abolish slavery itself in the British colonies, a victory achieved just three days before his death in 1833.

Metaxas discovers in this unsung hero a man of whom it can truly be said: he changed the world. Before Wilberforce, few thought slavery was wrong. After Wilberforce, most societies in the world came to see it as a great moral wrong.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, HarperSanFrancisco and Bristol Bay Productions have joined together to commemorate the life of William Wilberforce with the feature-length film Amazing Grace and this companion biography, which provides a fuller account of the amazing life of this great man than can be captured on film.

This account of Wilberforce's life will help many become acquainted with an exceptional man who was a hero to Abraham Lincoln and an inspiration to the anti-slavery movement in America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602529489
Publisher: Findaway World Llc
Publication date: 01/15/2008
Edition description: Unabridged Library Edition
Product dimensions: 4.86(w) x 7.79(h) x 1.16(d)

About the Author

Eric Metaxas is the author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask) and thirty children's books. He is founder and host of Socrates in the City in New York City, where he lives with his wife and daughter. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Washington Post, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Mars Hill Review, and First Things. He has written for VeggieTales and Rabbit Ears Productions, earning three Grammy nominations for Best Children's Recording.

Read an Excerpt

Amazing Grace

William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
By Eric Metaxas

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Eric Metaxas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061173004

Chapter One

Little Wilberforce

" . . . if it be a work of grace, it cannot fail."

On August 24, 1759, William Wilberforce was born into a prosperous merchant family in the city of Hull. The impressive, red-brick Jacobean mansion in which he was born was situated on the city's High Street, overlooking the Hull River. The Hull in turn flowed into the much larger Humber, which flowed eastward into the North Sea.

The Wilberforce family proudly traced its lineage in Yorkshire to the twelfth century and the reign of Henry II. Burke's Peerage places them as one of the very few families who can be traced to the far side of the river 1066 and Saxon times. In those days and for centuries afterward, on into Wilberforce's own century, the family name was Wilberfoss. It was changed by Wilberforce's grandfather, who seems to have had something of a "forceful" personality, as evinced in part by his penchant for changing whatever he disliked. It's likely that he wasn't fond of the roots of the suffix foss, which means "vassal" or, in Irish, "servant." That wouldn't do for a political figure with grand ambitions to wealth and power. And Wilberforce it became.

As a boy, the young Wilberforce could see the river from his house's windows and watch the great sailingships unloading American tobacco and Norwegian timber and Prussian iron before they were loaded with local exports and then sailed away, down the Hull, and down the Humber, and out to the oceans of the world. In his own lifetime, Hull would become an important whaling port, complete with the seasonal stench of rendered cetaceans. But most important to our story are not those cargoes that came in and out of Hull's harbor, but the one that didn't. Though Hull was the fourth-largest port in England, it was the only one that did not participate in the slave trade. It was this happy detail that would enable Wilberforce to remain in political office in years hence. Any member of Parliament from Bristol or Liverpool, whose economies depended on the slave trade, would not have been able to get away with leading the abolitionist movement for long.

Though the Wilberforce family had been merchants in this part of England for two centuries, it wasn't until the eighteenth century that their fortunes rose dramatically. The rise was due largely to William's grandfather, also named William. (Though he had changed Wilberfoss to Wilberforce, he did not fuss with the name William, which means "valiant protector.") Born in 1690, Wilberforce's grandfather had found great success in the Baltic trade and had inherited considerable property from his mother, an heiress of the Davye family. It was this William Wilberforce, twice elected mayor of Hull and thenceforth known as "Alderman" Wilberforce, who was the patriarch of the family.

The Alderman's second son, Robert, married William's mother, Elizabeth Bird, and joined the family business in Hull, taking over as managing partner in 1755. The Alderman's first son, William, had opted out of the family business by marrying Hannah Thornton and moving to London, where her father was director of the Bank of England and a member of Parliament. It was this couple who, following a series of unexpected events, would soon end up having more influence in the life of the young William than his own parents.

By all accounts, William Wilberforce was a glorious little child, a veritable cherub of twinkling luminosity. Upon his death in 1833, his middle sons, Samuel and Robert, began a five-volume biography of their father, which was published in 1838. An "unusual thoughtfulness for others marked his youngest childhood," they tell us, and of course they would have had access throughout their lives to many who had known their father as a child. We have only one first-person recollection of him during this time, from a visiting guest sometime in the early 1760s: "I shall never forget how he would steal into my sickroom, taking off his shoes lest he should disturb me, and with an anxious face looking through my curtains to learn if I was better." Indeed, according to all who remembered his earliest days, he was possessed of a "temper eminently affectionate."

What we know of him in later years seems to corroborate this picture perfectly. Already as a little child he had a weak constitution and poor eyesight, as he would all his life. Wilberforce often said that in less "modern" days he wouldn't have stood a chance at survival. But despite his sickliness and myopia, he seems from the very beginning to have captivated all who knew him. Most of us have met children like that, whose piercing innocence and brightness are a refreshment for the adult soul. Little Wilberforce seems to have been one of these--the sort of boy who could lead even the most jaded misanthropes to think that perhaps the supremely cracked-up race of bipeds of which they were a member was not entirely, not hopelessly, unredeemable.

In 1766, when William was seven, he was enrolled at the Hull Grammar School, which the poet Andrew Marvell had attended as a boy during the previous century. Wilberforce was said to have been tiny all of his life; he never grew taller than five-foot-three, and his boyish frame was so slight that, as an adult, during one of his many illnesses, he weighed seventy-six pounds. One can only imagine how tiny he was at the age of seven.

Now and again he would visit his grandfather, who had removed to the bucolic village of Ferribly, on the Humber, seven miles away. But, truth be told, men like Alderman Wilberforce never really seem to retire. Indeed, it was this grandfather who roughly pulled some strings to install one Joseph Milner as the Hull Grammar School's new and very young headmaster, at the age of twenty-three, just in time for little Wilberforce to start there. This power play was executed over the objections of the other members of the corporation and town of Hull. But the crafty old Alderman was not about to let a mere seven miles' distance mitigate his considerable and hard-won powers over the town he'd run since two King Georges before. We cannot divine his reasons for wanting to install Milner in that post, but the Alderman's meddling in this affair would soon end up having some unintended and ironic results, as we shall see.


Excerpted from Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas Copyright © 2007 by Eric Metaxas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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“Johnny Heller takes full advantage of the author's humor, rich language, and clever ways of saying things.... The audiobook is a worthwhile prequel to the American Civil War and a jewel of biography beyond black and white.” —-AudioFile

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Amazing Grace 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I decided to purchase this book after seeing the movie Amazing Grace. While I enjoy biographies, there is rarely one that I can't put down. This one fits that bill. It was astonishing to realize that we Americans have no familiarity with William Wilberforce, who, the book convinces you,is arguably the greatest humanitarian in human history. In Amazing Grace, we learn about his perservance against the tyranny of slavery,and how he inspired the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. Wilberforce should be in every history book around the world. But what really made this book the best I've read in the last ten years, was the voice Eric Metaxas uses to tell the story. It rivets you to the page. He informs and inspires at the same time. You feel completely caught up in the story, alternately laughing and crying. Moving, inspiring, poignant. I bought copies for all my 'reading' friends for Christmas. One can only hope Eric Metaxas will tackle other biographies. I'm eagerly awaiting his next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fabulous. I am a writer and find most bios boring and pedantic but this one reads like a novel. It really makes the reader aware of William's deep and genuine faith in Christ. Its really very inspirational.
clemmy More than 1 year ago
So if you aren't already a fan of William Wilberforce, you will be after reading this unless, of course, you are an unfeeling blob of molasses. The movie, by the by, with the same title, is also very good, and almost perfectly accurate (just a few corn cobs short of the county-wide barbeque, if you know what I mean). So if you are like me and adore accuracy, this is the book for you. Eloquently written, ahem, like Wilberforce himself, this book is easy to read for those people who don't like to read excessively long research papers. This is the full snapshot of who Wilberforce was and all that he did for the world and all that he had to overcome to achieve his goal for abolition. The abolitionists at his time held no hope to go straight for abolition, so they started simply with the abolition of the slave TRADE, which in itself took quite a good chunk of Wilberforce's life. Emancipation itself was passed three days before Wilberforce died in 1833.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an excellent book about the courage and faith of few to abolish slavery and improve social conditions throughout the world. The author's style is very readbale and the story engrossing. Highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book in the entirety. This has opened many doors and unlocked many things I had been trying to figure out. I would recommend this book for anybody who loves American history. I would recommend it for a book report. Very enlightening.
Steve777 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very inspiring story of a man passionate for God, passionate for the freedom of the slaves, and delightful to be around. Oh that those of us today who share Wilberforce's passions could be a blessing to those who disagree, as he was.
DianeS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd give this a quarter of a star if it was available. I had to stop in the middle of the first part of this book. I was really hoping to hear a biography. Instead I got a religious tract promoting Methodism and implying strongly that the Church of England are not Christians. Not being a Christian myself, this is an area I'm not interested in to begin with, and it killed any interest I had in learning about this man.
pinknpeach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was a little slow starting but I really enjoyed it. It shows the amazing way that God weaves people in and out of one's life using them to accomplish his purposes. Wilberforce had and incredbile life and was used mightily by God. It really reminded me how one person can make a hug difference.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Willaim Wilberforce was a man of amazing grace: generous in the sense of giving of his time and efforts, and in his faith in people to do the right thing.This biography looks at Mr. Wilberforce's life and, in particular, his fight to end slavery. It is very well written, with many witty turns of phrase. The author has obviously researched his subject well, and equally obviously is a major William Wilberforce admirer.I had not heard of Mr. Wilberforce before reading this book and am surprised that his outstanding contribution to the world is not more widely taught in schools and more generally know. This book makes an important contribution.
derekstaff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In his attempt to be congenial and engaging, Metaxas comes off as far too casual. He also seemed more concerned with championing Christianity than with exploring the full dimensions of Wilberforce's life. The scholarship felt shakey. Metaxas made a number of questionable historical statements, again usually in promoting a specifically Christian perspective. Wilberforce Wilberforce is definitely a man worth reading about, but I cannot recommend this biography.
RogerRamjet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
William Wilberforce lived a fascinating and inspiring life. Unfortunately, this book fell far short of matching the caliber of its subject matter. The writing style showed no sign of an editor. Almost every sentence appeared hastily written. The author, who I understand is a humorist by background, would often insert jokes or plays on words that were at best distracting and at worst embarassing in a what is supposed to be a serious biography. His frequent use of hyperbole rather than accurate description wass equally off-putting. The author is obviously deeply sympathetic to Wilberforce's conversion to Methodism, which I can understand. I don't expect the book to be completely impartial, but the failure to make any effort at a balanced picture makes this more of a tract than a biography. The author's research seemed shallow. One wonders whether he looked at any primary sources or was simply relying on other biographies, which must have been better written. I see that several other Wilberforce biographies are currently available. I will be looking to one of them for access to the real Wilberforce.
debs4jc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a biography of the man who almost single-handedly ended the slave trade in Britian. This may seem to be a lofty claim, but after reading this book you will realize how important a figure Wilberforce was and how history would be much different without him. The book goes chronologically through his life, presenting quite a detailed portrait of him as a youth, young politician, converted politician, and Christian activist. Of note is that this is the book that the recent movie Amazing Grace was based on.My Thoughts: I learned so much that I didn't know about Wilberforce and the England of his times. It was a bit dry at times, but I'm glad I read it and I found Wilberforces' life inspiring--the way he did so much good with his life is certainly a worthy example to follow.
whjensen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good book. Gave a good counterpoint to other Wilberforce books I've read. Compared to William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity, this book ofcused on creating a narrative whereas the previously read book contains text of speeches and letters as proofs of the contentions. This also follows a more traditional chronological order rather than an topic-based organization. If I had to choose one, this is a good primer on Wilberforce but I'd encourage reading both!Interestingly, it showed the importance of reading multiple overlapping histories in a single time period. I have recently read Rough Crossings by Simon Schama. They both have extensive treatments of the Thorntons and Macaulay in regards to Sierra Leone. While Metaxas comes off very sympathetic to these Clapham saints, Schama is less impressed. To be honest, Schama seems to lack an understanding of what this group was trying to achieve and reads it through the filter of later 20th century. However, he does bring up the issues of paternalism that was exhibited to a certain extent by members of the abolitionist movement that is largely ignored in the Metaxas bok.
MKH More than 1 year ago
Well done biography of Wilberforce, but not as good as the author's biography, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Zoeyanne More than 1 year ago
Well written and one of the best history books I have ever read about and incredible man of faith.
Jason_A_Greer More than 1 year ago
Amazing Grace ….. By Eric Metaxas is a good contribution to the history and work of British MP and slave abolitionist, William Wilberforce. This work is an engaging, popular history where the primary focus is on the inner life and personality of Wilberforce, and less on the broader events of the era. As a biography, it is personal, and the writing is at times witty and mirthful, and very sympathetic to Wilberforce as a man. Metaxas, a popular writer and historian, does a fine job of drawing the reader into the life of Wilberforce and showing its connection and relevance to his contemporary times. Showing and taking the reader through Parliamentary maneuvering of the era, in a relatable and relevant way is hard to do, yet Metaxas has a light touch with the procedures and highlights the human connections, with Wilberforce at the center of the text. For Wilberforce, the central aims of his life, abolishing slavery and its trade and reforming the manners (ethical practices) of his day was driven by his evangelical Christian faith, and Metaxas brings to this work a sympathy and understanding of how Wilberforce's faith drove him in reaction to the "Amazing Grace" he believed in and relied on. Metaxas does occasionally, critically evaluate Wilberforce on occasion and does touch on how Wilberforce changed and altered and grew as his life went along, such as his support of the Whigs in 1830, even though he was not entirely a backer of the 1832 Reform Bill, which Metaxas is not particularly clear why. This is not a comprehensive biography, but certainly a worthy introduction into the life of Wilberforce, particularly on a personal level. It is a decent, popular biography that builds off much of the work of others. There is no index or bibliography of sources cited, which does place this entirely as a reaction and secondary work. Wilberforce's main published work, "Real Christianity …." is hardly cited, which would have been helpful to trace Wilberforce's thought. The reader really will not get an in depth understanding of how Parliament and British society of that time period functioned, and the economic and social issues that drove slavery, and later its popular rejection, is barely discussed. The need for ethical reform, Wilberforce's other great mission, is barely touched upon. For a perspective on Wilberforce from a Parliamentary view, William Hague's biography perhaps would be a better choice, and the 1977 Pollack biography is certainly more comprehensive, showing how all the individuals of the "Clapham Sect" worked and interacted with one another. There are times when "Amazing Grace" does come close to being hagiographic, but that author does back away when that line is approached. Yet as an introduction to the life of someone who was moved to organize and actually carry off one of the great, and original human rights campaigns, and as someone in modern politics moved by his evangelical Christian faith, Wilberforce should come off as a real inspiration and a likable, endearing person, and Metaxas illustrates this with great skill. This is a decent biography to read and enjoy on a popular, introductory level.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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I did not know much about Wilberforce before this but now he is one of my heroes. Thank you Mr. Metaxas.
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