Freedom: A continuing journey

The quest for freedom — both political and spiritual — has gone on for thousands of years, as the Bible makes abundantly clear. Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves is an inspiring chronicle of one segment of that quest. Author of the prize-winning King Leopold's Ghost, which dealt with the colonization of Congo, Hochschild teaches writing at the University of California at Berkeley.

This wonderfully readable book is a history of British spiritual thinkers and activists who battled slavery in the British Empire, even risking their lives in the process. But it's really about much more than that. In essence, it describes the spiritual and mental journey toward a new and more universal concept of freedom — and the hard work it took to get there.

One of the key people in the struggle was Thomas Clarkson, whose victory in Cambridge University's most prestigious Latin eassy contest in 1785 changed his life. The assigned topic was "Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?" In his winning essay, Clarkson used accounts from people who had actually witnessed the way slaves were treated. These accounts moved him so deeply that while he was on his way to London, expecting to serve as a clergyman, " 'a thought came into my mind, that if the contents of the Essay were true, it was time some person should see these calamities to their end' " (p. 89).

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No excuse for silence
January 17, 2005

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