The Current

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Thomas Clarkson was a university student when he was given this essay topic: Is it lawful to enslave the un-consenting?

Writing the paper, he was exposed anew to what was actually happening around him. Even after he had turned it in, he continued to research slavery, and was astounded and appalled by what he found.

“A thought came into my mind,” he later wrote, “that if the contents of the essay were true, it was time some person should see these calamities to their end.”

Clarkson realized that “some person” could mean him. Instead of standing by and assuming that someone of greater means and ability would take up the cause, he rose to the challenge and did the most that anyone can do: what he could.

And “what he could do” turned out to be instrumental in the fight to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Clarkson answered that question as a Cambridge student in 1785, and he became one of the original abolitionists who stood up against the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He helped recruit politician William Wilberforce to the abolitionist movement, who contributed his influence, position and abilities to the fight against slavery. Together, they worked with like-minded advocates to pass legislation outlawing slavery in the British Empire and that led to the dismantlement of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” He, like Clarkson, saw the responsibility inherent in knowing. And both chose to act on that sense of responsibility.

What you and I know is that there are 29.8 million people living in slavery today. And we know that we can do something about it. The only question that remains is: will we?


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