The movie Amazing Grace starts out with some text talking about the slave trade in the time period in which the movie is set. The text says something to the effect of:
The British empire was the worlds greatest empire. It was built on the backs of slaves. All but a very few considered the slave trade acceptable. Of these few, even fewer were brave enough to speak out.
This quote is one of the big reasons international slave trade was so difficult to stop. Though horrible things happened on the sugar plantations in Jamaica, people were more worried about their own wallets.
Many people had vested economic interests in the slave trade. Sugar plantations were lucrative. It was hard to stop slavery in America for the same reasons. Everyone had slavery in their pockets. Politicians had interests in slavery. They were more worried about this than the many cruelties which were caused by the slave trade. A man in Parliament in the movie, when the abolition of the slave trade was brought up, said that, basically, if they didn’t have slaves, there would be no plantations to fill the coffers of the kingdom. There were many people who did support the end of the slave trade, but they were often afraid to show it because of the overwhelming opposition, as well as their constituency. Members of Parliament had to worry about election. If their constituents depended on slavery for their livelihood, they were not likely to reelect members of Parliament that tried to get rid of that livelihood.
Even more members of Parliament were against slavery outright due to their own economic interests. They were not about to abolish an institution that did so much for them.
Another issue with ending the international slave trade was a general lack of knowledge. The part of the movie when the protagonist had the well-off people on the boat see the slave ship and had them smell the horrible smell of death coming from it was the start of his campaign for the end of the slave trade. Many people were made aware of the horrors of slavery. There was a long list of horrors. On slave ships, people were kept in extremely cramped quarters, with virtually no room to move. They had horrible illnesses. When there were storms, people would be thrown overboard. People weren’t well fed. They were treated very cruelly. When they got to the plantations, there were more horrors in store for them. They were treated terribly. They were branded, marked by other men. Many of them died on the plantations, as well. To me, one of the most touching scenes of the movie was when the former slave pulled out the shackles and told how he was bound by them. He then proceeded to show the branding mark on his chest.
Another reason the end of the International slave trade was so difficult was because of the war with France. War often tends to eclipse all other issues. Such was the case with England on the brink of war with France. When the war was coming on, and until England seemed likely to win, people did not want to hear of much else. Change, when the American Revolution was so fresh in the mind of Great Britain, and the French Revolution such a new thing, was almost equivalent to revolution. People were scared of war. They did not like anything that challenged the King. Though the king was insane at the time, people didn’t like anything to contradict him. At one point in the movie, the Prime Minister told Wilberforce that anything opposing the king would come to be considered sedition. One of these things was slavery. People were spreading pretty wild rumors about the abolitionists, including William Wilberforce. They said that one of his compatriots was a French spy. These rumors hurt the abolition of the slave trade as well. They discredited the people who were fighting the hardest against it.
These people made many, many sacrifices for the cause in which they believed so fiercely. They fought hard, giving up youth, health, time, money, reputation and mental stability. They presented the same bill in Parliament, one to abolish the slave trade, year after year, only to have it shot down by those who objected it. Yet, they still kept fighting. It was a very difficult battle. Eventually, they made some headway by “cheating” and making a law that attacked the slave trade from the side, so to speak. It took even more years to finally get the bill abolishing the slave trade passed in Parliament. Eventually, however, despite great difficulties and with extremely great sacrifice, they won the battle to end the slave trade.
“God sometimes does His work with gentle drizzle, not storms.” This quote has been the case in so many instances throughout the world’s history. The end of the slave trade had to occur first in the hearts of the people. It is no easy task to change the world. There have been heroes in its history who strove to do just that, but they have had to accept the fact that things take time. Men have their agency, and God will not force their hands.
The end of the slave trade took so much time and effort because people did not want the slave trade to end. They had monetary interests in slavery. People are often greedy by nature, and they will protect their own pockets at the cost of human life. Many people were indifferent. They had other concerns besides slavery that took precedence in their lives. Many were ignorant of the horrors of the slave trade. It ended because people like William Wilberforce and his allies were willing to fight to end it. They were willing, at great personal cost, to educate people and bring them to an awareness of the evils of the slave trade. And they were willing to give their all to fight that terrible institution.