My neighbor Brenda owned that Fruity Loops bird and named it Preacher.
It had one of the most annoying voices and would frequently yell out in a high-pitched screech,
“Say, fellas, I’m a swinger!”
(Especially whenever someone came over to the house).
Preacher said this over and over again, and it got to be rather annoying.
So, Brenda took Preacher to see the priest (yes, the name is a coincidence).
Her priest said,
“Well this is no trouble at all, I have two parrots of my own.
And they are the most pious, religious birds you will ever meet.
They say their prayers. They say the rosary.
They have their beads.
If you leave Preacher with my two…mine will straighten her out”.
And so, Brenda did.
And sure enough, within the hour the Preacher chimed in.
The bird said,
“Say, fellas, I’m a swinger”.
Where upon, one of the other parrots turned to the next one and said,
“Put your beads away Charlie! Our prayers have been answered!!”
When Brenda told me this funny story, I clicked for me like the seatbelt in the back of an old clunky Buick.
There are unintended consequences when you forget that people have voices and ideas that deserve to be heard.
There’s power in the individual, there power within just one person.
Sometimes, freedom is just a spark of hope in the hearts of a few.
One person can turn that spark into a burning fire for freedom.
One person can change the course of history for freedom.
I am writing you today in the context of an issue that I believe is the most compelling in our country.
That is the very serious erosion of character.
That is not really the issue I am focusing on, but it is an important sub-issue.
I want to focus a historical figure that I think underscores what strong personal character and individual initiative can accomplish.
Again, when it comes to CHARACTER, I just want to plant a seed and say that is the number one issue our country faces.
I know that we all get caught up in the headline grabbing issues of the day.
The massive uncontrolled spending in Washington.
The deficit. The debt.
These are all important issues, but those are just symptoms of a huge problem:
There’s an erosion of CHARACTER.
You get things like,
• Out of control government spending
• Budget deficits
• Corrupt politicians...
If—first as a people—we allow our standards of character to slip.
Things like honesty, humility, patience, courage, responsibility, and self-reliance…
When those things fall by the wayside, you get the kinds of things I am complaining about—but on the national level!
Until you fix the character problem, through which I don’t think any law or government mandate can fix,
the solution has to come from the home and from the heart.
Until you fix those character problems, we are not going to be able to fix the other smaller ones.
So, maybe that’s why its sub-issue, as we discuss a person who did exemplify very important traits of character.
When was the last time you heard the name, Thomas Clarkson?
When was the last time you saw the movie that came out seven or eight years ago, called Amazing Grace?
I encourage you to see it if you haven't. You’ll love it.
The movie focuses primarily on William Wilberforce who led the effort in Parliament over 200 years ago to end slave trades.
This was when slavery itself throughout, was the jurisdiction of the British empire.
His right-hand man was this man named, Thomas Clarkson.
He’s prominently in the movie, but I think he's not given as much credit as he deserves.
Even Wilberforce has said, what they accomplished in the anti-slavery movement, could not have happened had it not been for the good work of his right-hand man Thomas Clarkson.
So, I want to tell you about him because he changed the world.
Young Thomas Clarkson in the 1780s was a student at Cambridge University in Britain planning to become an Anglican minister.
An event on the high seas would change his life, but more importantly his reaction to it would change the conscience of a nation and the course of history.
The incident involved a slave ship in the early 1780s by the name of the Zongo.
It was making this long journey from the port of either Bristol or Portsmouth.
I can't recall where in Britain, along the coast of Africa, they were rounding up slaves.
Then on from there, across the Middle Passage, the Atlantic Ocean, to slave plantations, and places like Grenada and Jamaica.
Along the way something happened that would change history.
It wasn't all that uncommon but, because the story got out, and the way it got out would lead to huge changes in in the history of the world, the Zongo had an especially long voyage.
It couldn't make just one or two stops to pack the ship with slaves.
It had various difficulties for various reasons it ended up over several months having to make many stops until it packed the ship with more than 400 human beings against their will in chains bound for slavery in the West Indies.
But that very long voyage meant that those who were on the ship the longest, who were rounded up first, were most subject to disease and all the hazards of such a long and perilous journey (under horrific conditions).
Not far from the West Indies, the slave ship captain made a cold and cruel calculation.
He observed that a good portion of the people in chains on his ship, bound for slavery, were in terrible shape.
Emaciated, disease-ridden, and lost a lot of weight.
He figured they're not going to command much at auction in Grenada or Jamaica.
He decided then that he could make more money if he got rid of them and put in an insurance claim that an act of God required that some of the cargo be thrown overboard.
HE GAVE THE ORDER TO THROW 132 LIVING SOULS INTO THE SEA.
Some of the crew members (and again this was not all that uncommon) were so moved by this, so horrified, that they talked.
When the ship got back to Britain they spoke to a young lawyer in London by the name of Granville Sharpe.
Deciding he was going to do something about this, he was going to file murder charges against the slave ship captain.
There was a trial, but in the end the judge in the case simply dismissed it.
He said in his dismissal that this act was nothing more than like throwing horses overboard.
Those are his words and that this was nothing more than a civil dispute between a slave ship captain and an insurance company.
Well, there was a professor at Cambridge who was in charge of an annual essay contest that Cambridge students could enter as long as they wrote their essays in Latin,
He determined every year what the topic would be, and it was a very coveted prize.
Students really flocked to try to enter and win that contest.
He was so moved by this judge’s dismissal of a case that he decided to make the annual topic that year slavery.
Specifically, the question would resolve that it is immoral for one man to own another.
Thomas Clarkson studying to be an Anglican minister at Cambridge decided to enter the contest.
He knew nothing about slavery.
In fact, the extent he knew anything was probably what most people in Britain thought namely that well it's pretty lucrative.
He knew it was a business for some, and the ports were flourishing because of it, and was not in existence in Britain.
It's somewhere else, and the slave ship people tell us that the folks are reasonably cared for.
That's probably what he heard because that was commonplace at that time.
Slavery was widely accepted not just in Britain but all over the world.
It had had been in practice for hundreds of years. Lots of people were making money off of it.
So, Clarkson decides he’s going to enter this contest, and he's not going to just write something rhetorically off the from the seat of his pants, he's actually a very diligent student.
He's going to do his homework. He goes down to Bristol to look for slave ship crew members who might be willing to talk.
He gathers evidence wherever he can find it, and he writes an essay which turns out to win first prize.
He argues that slavery is a cruel and inhuman institutional stain on the British conscience and must be abolished.
When Thomas Clarke won that essay contests there weren't many people in Britain who thought like he did.
In fact, he looked around trying to find, who are my allies?
Who can I organize to try to bring this message to the rest of the people? To enlighten them?
He had one objective: to change society. To change policy. Get people thinking of ways they ought to think.
To make the necessary changes.
He looks around, and all he finds are Quakers, and they were sort of written-off by most of British society in the 1780s and 1790s, as well they're a little odd.
Quaker men have this odd habit kind of annoying to a lot. They never respected authority and never took their hats off to anyone other than God.
They had spoken out (a number of them) against slavery.
So, in May of 1787, support was finally now galvanized into doing something about it.
He calls them together around a table in a print shop in downtown London.
11 other people (mostly Quakers), so there's 12 people around a table.
Guess what they do? They started the world's first Think Tank.
It was called a society for the Abolition of The Slave Trade.
It was a think tank because the whole purpose was ultimately to change policy by starting first to educate the people to bring them a message that wasn't being carried to them by anyone else.
Well that's a pretty tall order in 1787. You're going to change the British Empire?
You're going to get into abolishing slavery? Lots of places are doing it!
Scholars and teachers and preachers and intellectuals are all for the most part in support of this or they're indifferent to it.
So, here's Clark and eleven oddballs who are going to change the course of British (and world) history, and he's barely out of college.
At this point the first thing they do is they take his prize-winning essay, and translated from Latin back to into English.
Published it and distributed it.
They started publishing other things over the next 20 years until they actually, in 1807, secure by an act of Parliament the abolition of the trade of slaves.
Thomas Clarkson rode on horseback for 35,000 miles around Britain gathering signatures on petitions.
If you saw the movie Amazing Grace, you remember the moment when Wilberforce on the floor of the Parliament unrolls that massive petition with objections on the other side.
At that time this had never been done.
You know you don't bring a rabble into the parliament with petitions signatures.
It was Clarkson who rustled up those signatures. Hundreds of thousands of them from all over Britain.
Clarkson and his lieutenants…people he recruited…he was one of the people as depicted in the film.
In fact, they were who recruited Wilberforce to be their man in Parliament to introduce the bill every year to end the slave trade.
Clarkson is the guy who if you recall from maybe your high school history class text.
You ever see that famous sketch of what a slave ship looks like.
Artists make a lot of little black lines if you look really close you can see those are people and they're chained one to another in horrific conditions.
That was Clarkson's idea.
He said we've got to make this real to people we've got to show them graphically.
Here's what we're talking about: living people.
Packed like sardines, chained one to another.
In these awful conditions going across the Atlantic Ocean away from their homes and families.
He goes to a man named Josiah Wedgwood. He was recruited early to join the anti-slavery cause.
Clarkson goes to him and says,
“Can you come up with an image that can become (sort of the way we would say logo…I don't know if they had that term then), a kind of a symbol of our movement?”
It’s Wedgwood that comes up with that famous sketch that shows up on plates and mugs.
I don't think they had t-shirts then, but if they had, it would have been on those two, of a kneeling black man in Chains looking upward, and with his hands in prayer.
It says around the perimeter of wherever this image appeared,
“Am I not a man and a brother?”
Well that helped to galvanize people and prick their conscience.
It made them think about this institution of slavery.
So, through education, through championing the cause, at great risk to himself, he was beaten almost to within an inch of his life.
Once by angry slave ship crew members.
Clarkson and his merry band of agitators got to work on the British conscience.
They actually begin to gain ground the first few years that Wilberforce is introducing the bill in parliament.
Then something happens in 1793 that turns their fortunes against them at least for a time: A War with France.
This is the start of a very long series of wars, and you know who appears late in that decade and will last for another 16 years fighting the war with Britain.
That is Napoleon Bonaparte, but in 1793 Britain goes to war, and now what do the opponents of the anti-slavery movement say in parliament?
“Look at these people with Wilberforce and Clarkson. They're traitors!
They want to do away with British involvement in the very lucrative slave trade.
All they will do is hand the business over to the French our enemies.
These guys are traitors.
So, you might think…boy…
Facing those kinds of threats and intimidation, that they might have said,
“Huh let's lay low for a while.”
Nah they kept up the fight, and even in the midst of the war (which wouldn't end until 1815), they will prevail.
As shown in that wonderful movie Amazing Grace, that great moment arrives.
The movie doesn't tell you this,
It happened at 4 AM, but it was in February of 1807.
20 years after Clarkson formed The Society for The Abolition of The Slave Trade, and year after year of defeat in Parliament, the bill comes up once again and in February of 1807.
The bill to abolish the trade and slaves passes overwhelmingly.
It's one of the pivotal moments in the history of human Liberty and depicted so beautifully in that film Amazing Grace.
Well after 20 years of all that struggle, putting aside his career plans, you'd think maybe he would have said
“Okay, I want to go back to what I was planning to do. A more peaceful life.”
He and Wilberforce resolved that very day to renew their commitment to the big objective which wasn't just ending the trade, but to end slavery itself.
Guess how many more years it will take before they achieve that?
All they do in 1807 is get an abolition in the trade and no new slavery, but it leaves the enslaved and the many who had been rounded up before.
How many more years do you think it'll take them before they get that big objective?
26 more years.
So, this is a 46 year battle that's a pretty big chunk of one's life.
It isn’t until 1833 when Parliament (and Wilberforce incidentally) cast one of the last votes.
He cast one of the not last in that moment, but cast one of the last votes of his life because he died three days after this.
It was in 1833 that Parliament voted to abolish slavery itself throughout the British Empire.
Britain goes from being a slave holding trading nation to now being the leading anti-slavery crusading power on the planet.
That’s largely because of the efforts of people like Wilberforce and Clarkson who started out when things were rather lowly.
Now in his 70s having achieved the prime objective, Clarkson didn't sit on his fanny and do nothing.
He formed organizations to help transition people from slavery to freedom when he dies in 1846.
At the age of 86, London saw one of the biggest funerals it had seen in many years.
Quakers who had been enlisted were there at the funeral, and the Quaker men did something that they almost never did. They took off their hats. Here was truly a hero for Humanity.
Ellen Gibson Wilson one of Clarkson's biographers writings kind of sums him up so well when she says,
“Thomas Clarkson 1762-1846 a man who gave his life to liberate people he never met from Land's he never saw that's a pretty good epitaph isn't this man said about to change the conscience of a nation and he did it.”
What’s the lesson? There's one person against the world.
I guess, almost every government in the world was either part of the problem, or didn't want to have anything to do with a solution.
Yet he took initiative and what was the result? Not just a change of policy.
I would hope that all of us would not only, never give up no matter what the odds.
Recognizing that history is full of examples of people who change things against remarkable overwhelming circumstances.
I hope that you'll all decide (if you have not already) that at some point when it comes time for you check out of this life, you want to be in a position looking back in your life to say something like what the Apostle Paul said on the eve of his martyrdom.
When he said,
“I have fought the good fight I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
In other words,
You know I may not have solved every problem, but I did what I could when I knew what was right.
I committed myself to it, and I did all that I could. I tried not to be a part of the problem.
I tried to be part of the solution.
I never failed to take an opportunity to persuade others that the right path I served as a good example of myself because that's the way people learn most of the time.
By example not necessarily by what they read.
That's the position we want to put each of us in at some point.
It’s never too soon to work on your character.
You'll never regret it if you work on up from day one you will have a life of that you'll never regret.
You will be able to look back and say, wow I made a difference.
I wasn't like so many who've lived on this planet, who didn't leave a mark, or if they left one, it wasn't a good one.
I was one of the ones that made a difference because I chose to be one person who can change lives, can change history, can change the world.
Never underestimate what one person can accomplish. One person cannot do it all.
I currently run a successful home business, but I want real change in the world to happen.
We can make a partnership.
When you do that, when you join my network, you’ll be a part of a global network of friends.
And one thing that’s clear, we have friends all over the world who work for our principles and our values under so many difficult situations.
Also, at great personal risk to themselves.
There are some of our friends that are not here because they been punished by governments for standing up for truth and justice.
And they have paid a terrible price.
But always know that you are not alone. There are other people that share your values.
People who care about you. And people who will be helpful to you and support even in dark times.
Let’s create a world that’s free, just, prosperous, and cooperative.
Your participation is very important because it’s part of the project.
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