Lincoln once said that "everyone should know Wilberforce." (p. 511) William Hague has afforded the present generation the second-best way to get to know Wilberforce; a magnificently written biography of the man. While the most insightful means to "know Wilberforce" is to know his God, in no small measure Hague reveals the God of William Wilberforce by disclosing the man. The man, as it turns out, in his life manifested the efficacy of pure religion put into practice.
The author is no neophyte to historical biography, having previously offered a highly-regarded biography of William Pitt the Younger (Knopf - February 8, 2005 - "[A] first-class work of history; informative, well written and captivating." --Alistair Horne, The Times London). In this his accounting of the life of Wilberforce, Hague informatively, with graceful style, leads the reader to an understanding of why many of his contemporaries regarded him on a par with the greatest statesmen of the age; in the end, he was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey.
William Wilberforce is quite rightly remembered for his untiring efforts to bring about the end of British-sanctioned slave trading in 1807. For that accomplishment alone he should be recalled. However, beyond the accomplishment lies the value of studying the life of one who was unusually devoted to higher principles; in many respects, the life of Wilberforce exhibits that one can have one's vision focused on heavenly values while having one's feet planted within the realities of earthly existence. For those who long for political leadership ennobled by trustworthy character traits, this is a worthy model. Think, for example, of a leader who is aware of his abilities, recognizes his limitations, has no greater ambition than to do good for his fellow beings, is tender yet unbending, principled yet practical, bipartisan and independent yet not radical, and honest to the core; that's the Wilberforce model.
This is the man who declared the following in a speech given during his only contested contest for his seat in Commons:
"Gentlemen, so long as you thus understand the constitution under which you live, and know its nature, so long you will be safe and happy; and notwithstanding the varieties of political opinion which will ever exist in the free country, you will present a firm and united front against every foreign enemy. Great countries are perhaps never conquered solely from without, and while this spirit of patriotism and its effects continue to flourish, you may, with the favour pf Providence, bid defiance to the power of the greatest of our adversaries." (p. 368).
William Wilberforce fought to eradicate the greatest evils of his age with uncompromising dignity, eloquence, and wisdom unequalled in the annals of legislative leadership. Mr. Hague's biography brings to light the value of such leadership. The work also brings to light the underlying beliefs and values that created the man and his legacy.