“A Speech that Made Abolition History” by Mr. Coles appeared in the Wall Street Journal on May 12, 2007. “It is rare indeed that a single piece of oratory can spark not just a change in the law, but also a tidal shift in global opinion,” the article begins. It is about the speech that William Wilberforce gave on May 12, 1789 to Britain’s House of Commons against slavery. Wilberforce was elected to Parliament when he was barely 21. He was short and snub-nosed and was once described as a “shrimp,” and yet his oratory skills made him to be known as the “Nightingale of the Commons.”
He was not the one to have speech writers write his piece for him. Oh! No. He had too much to say. He had guts, passion, courage, and conviction. “When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House – a subject in which the interests not just of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world and of posterity are involved … it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task.. the end of which is the total abolition of the slave trade.” Of course, Wilberforce was threatened and attacked for his views and plenty of disgrace was brought upon him. Yet he persisted. He had to wait for more than 26 years before the tide turned on July 26, 1833. He died three days later. His life’s mission was fulfilled.
Today, it is quite unthinkable for many of us to even consider fighting for our convictions. The risks are great and the attacks are vicious. But when we choose to do so, we can rest assured that we are in the company of giants who may look like shrimps.