Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…
I can barely keep my seat. After all these hours of debate, they are about to call the vote. Every creak of a bench, every rustle of paper is magnified. Near twenty years, I have waited for this. The moment has come, time and time and time again, only to pass, defeated. Still, I cannot control the sudden sharpening of my senses. This time it will not be in vain.
That saved a wretch like me…
Will it be today? Equiano should be here. It was our great loss he died when he did. Ten years ago, just when we were in doubts this moment would ever come. It is my deepest sorrow he died without seeing the fruits of our work.
I thought I would never rally again after that blow. I believe the only thing that sustained me was the words from John Wesley’s letter, words I memorized when first the letter came to me. “But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.” How young I was when I read those words the first time, so assured of the easy victory of my endeavor.
I once was lost, but now I’m found…
Barbara is in the gallery, watching me with the same hopeful flame in her eyes, despite the dark circles beneath them. She has been here faithfully for weeks, ever since the bill was put forth in January. For all the speeches in favor of its passage, it has taken nigh a month to bring it to a vote. After so long, all the MPs are suddenly anxious to have their say. Clarkson would tell the lot of them to shut their mouths and vote if he could. He always was one to take the direct route to things. He’s about to leap out of that gallery now, I have no doubt.
Was blind, but now I see…
At last, they’re calling the vote. My heart feels as if it might break my ribs with its hammering. The last flowery speech is done. I admit to being as moved as anyone, and properly humbled by all the tributes – but for pity’s sake let the thing be done with!
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…
The silence is deafening. My eyes focus on the sheaf of paper at the reader’s table – the Slave Trade Act. Could it be that it will finally receive Royal Assent?
And grace my fears relieve….
My head sinks into my hands as the votes are cast. I dare not look, try to estimate. We’re rushing at an unlocked door, but what if…
How precious did that grace appear…
“The final tally...”
Merciful Heavens, I barely have the courage to listen. My eyes are leaking tears, I dare not raise my head. My heart is overflowing with an odd mixture of peace and exhilaration – as if I know the outcome if I would only let myself believe it.
The hour I first believed…
“Nays, 16. Ayes, 283.”
The deafening roar in the House is nothing compared to the sounds within me. I’m crying, laughing, sobbing. People about me are cheering, calling for a speech. I have no words. I can only pray silently, my thanksgiving surpassing all speech. If only dear Reverend Newton could witness this. And yet, perhaps he can – he and Equiano and all of them. It is to them that we owe this great victory.
February 23, 1807. On this day, the slave trade in Great Britain is no more.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
Historical Note: William Wilberforce was the leading voice for abolition in Britain at the turn of the 19th century. His connections to John Newton, Olaudah Equiano, Thomas Clarkson and John Wesley helped further the cause of abolition.
Song lyrics from “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, published 1779
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