Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lincoln, William Wilberforce & Abolition of Slavery

We saw the movie Lincoln at the weekend. Enjoyed it a lot. I'll not expand on that, there are already lots of reviews on the net. I'll just say that all praise is well-deserved. There are many super performances from some of movie-land's best.

To access earlier posts touching on Abraham Lincoln and/or his astrology, just scroll down to the Label Cloud in the sidebar and click on his name.

Instead of waxing lyrical further about the USA's famous abolitionist, I decided to give some space to an earlier, British politician whose name is not nearly as well-known as Abe's, but who abolished slavery in Britain, in the early 19th century, some 50 years before events chronicled in the Lincoln movie. This is not written in any "Neener neener, we did it first...." attitude. It's really just to bring a name to the fore that has been too oft forgotten.

William Wilberforce: a book review online described him as ".... the most famous person in the world that no one knows". His name isn't widely remembered outside of the UK, and especially outside of the city of my own birth, Hull aka Kingston upon Hull where he was born, on 24 August 1759, into a fairly well-off merchant and banking family. Hull is a port on England's East coast, and from there his family carried on trade with merchants from the Baltic.

Wilberforce's greatest achievement, as Member of Pariament for Hull, was in winning his crusade against slavery, first against the slave trade itself, then against the owning of slaves. He gave his first speech on the abolition of slavery in 1789; presented his first bill to abolish the slave trade using British ships in 1891. With 12 later bills he fought this issue for 18 years before a bill was finally passed. The Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was passed by the House of Lords on 4 February 1807; by the Commons on 23 February 1807, receiving Royal Assent on 25 March 1807. Wilberforce continued to fight for 26 years to see the owning of slaves banned as well. In 1833, just after his death, his bill passed its final reading three days before his death.

If we were to happen upon William Wilberforce in a time warp, today, he wouldn't fit into any known standard political "box". He was, in many ways, the epitome of what's now called progressive or "bleeding heart liberal". Yet in other ways he was a thorough-going right-winger, as befitted the conservative farmers and land owners of Yorkshire who had sent him to represent them in parliament. To place him in historical context these references might help: he met Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Tsar Alexander of Russia, and the future Queen Victoria, aged 1 year. He was friend and confidant of William Pitt Jr., Spencer Perceval and George Canning. He saw figures raised up or destroyed in twenty three years of war and revolution.

Sickenly horrendous details of the slave trade are these days often skimmed over at best. As a reminder this excerpt from a 1980 biography of Wilberforce by Garth Lean:
Two hundred years ago, Britain was the world's leading slave-trading nation. From Liverpool, Bristol or London her ships sailed for the West African coast; and there gathered their cargo by direct seizure, purchase from Arab traders or barter with local chiefs. Often chiefs would sell the entire population of one of their own, or of a neighbour's, villages. The British officials were just as ruthless. Once, a British military governor delivered up a hundred African guests whom he was entertaining in his fort when the slave captains arrived.

Once captured, the slaves were herded into barracoons to await the arrival of the ships. The fit were branded with their new owner's mark, while the old and deformed were often killed as useless. Many had to be flogged to force them into the canoes which took them through the surf to the slave ship. There, they were chained in pairs between decks on shelves with only two and a half feet head-room. A ship of 150 tons often carried as many as 500 slaves. The crew, who had often been press-ganged into service, generally took their pick of the women.

It was obviously in the slaver's interest to keep their cargo in as good health as possible. When weather permitted, therefore, they were taken on deck and forced to jump around under threat of the whip.

In bad weather, on the other hand, they would lie for weeks in their own filth and the stench could be smelt across a mile of ocean. By the time a ship reached America or the West Indies, ten per cent of the cargo would normally have died, while many others would be desperately ill.

On arrival a few days would be spent tarting them up for market. Their bodies were fattened and oiled, their sores disguised. Finally, they would be paraded naked through the streets and auctioned. Strong men would fetch as much as £40, while the sick and wounded were sold off in cheap lots with the women and children. Families were ruthlessly split up. Those who were too sick to be marketable were left on the quay to die. Nor was that the end of their ordeal. A third of those who survived thus far died from the vicious discipline imposed by their new owners. The process was politely known as 'seasoning'.

Wilberforce's other mission he described as "the reformation of manners".
From biography by Stephen Tomkins:

His other enthusiasms—improving morals and Christian missionary work—amount, by twenty-first-century lights, to censorship (by very punitive measures, including imprisoning and fining poor printers) and cultural colonization. He was anti-war, to be sure, but to keep England safe, he approved the kinds of tactics — suspension of habeas corpus, preemptive military strikes — that today's peaceniks abhor. He exhausted his fortune and advocated laws to improve the lot of poor working people, but he also sought to make trade unions illegal. Loyal to his friends, supportive of his family, humbly self-critical, incorruptible, and implacably abolitionist throughout a nearly half-century-long career, he was a very good man. But he was of his time and station, therefore unacceptably paternalistic to us.

When I first looked at Wilbeforce's 12 noon natal chart (no time of birth is known) I decided that - well - this is one of those times when there's no clear correlation between what we know of the man and what the planetary positions are indicating. I wanted to see some Aquarius emphasis, or prominent Uranus - preferably both. Not so. But then, I wondered whether, in the 18th and early 19th century, if to be a successful radical reformer, would one need to also display certain other qualities in order to reach a status where actions would count for something? This applies today, of course, but to a lesser extent, due to vastly improved education, communication etc. So, perhaps it's the "other" side of Wilberforce that will show most clearly in his chart.


His Virgo Sun at 00 degrees, Moon also in Virgo whatever time he was born, and Mercury there too denote a man of meticulous mindset, excellent communcator - which by all accounts he was: sociable charismatic and popular. Chiron (the wounded healer) lay in Aquarius, but no planet was there. Uranus was at 00 Aries- degree known as "the Aries point", thought to be the strongest degree of that sign - that should count towards his humanitarianism - Uranus being the ultimate radical and revolutionary. The fact that Uranus lies in exact quincunx , an uncomfortable 150* angle to his natal Sun, could indicate the uneasy mix within his political nature and missions.

Jupiter in Capricorn (religion, expansion) and Saturn (conservatism, legislation) in Pisces lay in harmonious sextile and in what astrologers call "mutual reception". Each is in the sign of the other's rulership, bringing about extra emphasis on both planets and both signs.

So....although the social reformer in this chart may not jump out to hit one in the eye at first glance, it is represented there, as is Wilberforce's more conservative side.

I well remember our school class being taken on a day trip, many long years ago, to look around the Wilberforce House and Museum.


mike said...

Thanks for the incite of Wilberforce! I've always been intrigued, yet appalled, by the notion of slavery...such a horrendous crime of humans against humans and seems to be part of the human experience. Even now, in our modern and evolved day-and-age, most of us are participants in some form of "slavery", trapped in others' ideas of indentured servitude.

I observe dispositors to determine the chart's drivers. In Wilberforce's chart, all of the planets disposit back to Mercury in its Virgo home, except for Venus, which is also in her rulership. His Mercury dispositor dominance would bear Wilberforce and excellent mind with total attention to detail and getting messages across with perfect timing. His Venus in Libra squares the Mars-Jupiter opposition, which would make by-force and against-the-will actions repugnant to him. He also has two loose yods: Venus-Neptune-Saturn and Juptiter-Saturn-Neptune. The yods indicate that Virgo and Aquarius are determinants in his thinking.

I bought "To Be a Slave" by Julius Lester, at a thrift store and finally read it years later. It's excellent at conveying slavery from the slaves' view. I thought I comprehended slavery until I read this book! Particularly interesting to me was the period in the USA, after prohibition of slavery. Their was no plan for the release of slaves and what was to become of them. This simply allowed masters to keep slaves that had nowhere to go or money to spend. This brought the American era of sharecroppers and a new, legal method of slavery.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Yes - and it has taken the human race so long to "get the message". From the most ancient civilisations slavery has formed part of their MO, even Athenians whose philisophies we still revere used slaves.

But...even when the USA eventually caught up with "the message", it didn't quite get it and continued with an evil: segregation. If not physically as cruel it was mentally, psychologically an equally horrendous system and lasted for far too long in the US.

Thanks for you additional astrological points. Dispositors tend to tangle my mind, so I seldom use them - am glad you can provide input on that aspect.

I'm not sure I'd be able to read a whole book on the topic of slavery...but as to literature, one piece which always comes to my mind when slavery is mentioned is a short story by Ursual Le Guin
The Ones who Walk Away From Omelas


To me the analogy of slavery is there, whether the original kind, or serfdom, or a more modern variation (sweat shops in 3rd world countries and elsewhere).

mike (again) said...

I had to see his Wiki entry after reading your post...I wanted to see how his inverted, side-by-side yods manifested. He was certainly an independently thinking person, very avant-garde, very willing and able to challenge the colloquial process.

From Wiki:
[later in life] Inwardly, he underwent an agonising struggle and became relentlessly self-critical, harshly judging his spirituality, use of time, vanity, self-control, and relationships with others.

mike (again) said...

Off the subject, have you visited the "TED: Ideas worth spreading" website?


Twilight said...

mike ~~ The quote you present from Wiki so well describes someone with dominant Virgo traits doesn't it!?

Re TED - I've occasionally watched a TED video, but hadn't visited the site before. I've saved the link - had a quick look around, watched a video about the "map of the known universe". I shall return to it - and perhaps investigate some of the conversations too. Thanks for the link. :-)

LB said...

I'm always curious and intrigued by people who dare to think and act differently by challenging the popular (and usually inhumane) thinking of their time, so thanks for posting this. Coincidentally, when I was looking for the chart of Chris Hedges, I also found it on your site.:)

I'm not an astrologer, but I see Chiron in Aquarius -when prominent and at its best- as the sign of the social reformer; both Wilberforce and Chris Hedges share this particular placement which I believe can lend itself to a deeper understanding of the dehumanizing effects and hypocrisies inherent in social hierarchies based on money and/or power.

Just for fun, I checked on midpoints and sure enough, Wilberforce's Chiron sits at his Saturn/Pluto midpoint, which seems very significant, especially when considering his Saturn and Pluto placements.

Your interpretations were very interesting, as were the comments that followed. Thanks again.

mike (again) said...

Last comment for this post, I promise! I was brushing my teeth and realized I'd used "incite" and should have chosen "insight"...then re-read my post and discovered "their" should be "there"...gasp...gads. If I found two mistakes, then there are probably ten more. I guess the combination of dementia and internet reading has profoundly affected my phonetic choice and spelling of words!

Twilight said...

LB ~~ Funny you should say that, LB! I had noticed Chiron in Chris Hedges' chart the other day, then looking at Wilberforce's chart, knew I'd seen that placement somewhere else recently but couldn't recall exactly where. Thanks!

I seldom mention Chiron, but in this case its placement is significant.

Midpoints are another part of astrology I deliberately avoid, so am grateful for your pointing out
how noting a midpoint in this case is helpful, and fits the picture.

Glad to know you found the notes on Wm.Wilberforce interesting! :-)

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Oh my! You don't need to be correcting your typos and such here (you must have prominent Virgo) they are the stuff of life.
I make 'em all the time, especially in comments, where I read through very quickly and press publish.

I hovered over your use of "incite" and thought to myself - I must look that up - when I did it seemed to fit, if used in its meaning to arouse or provoke (arouse thought about Wm Wilberforce and slavery).

I do a their/there/they're variation wrongly at least once a day, on some blog or other. Fingers homing in on commonly-used combinations - we can't help having flighty fingers. ;-)

Juanita's Journal said...

It's interesting that you brought up both the movie "LINCOLN", the 16th president and William Wilberforce.

Have you ever seen "AMAZING GRACE"? It is a 2007 movie about Wilberforce's efforts to end Britain's participation in the Atlantic slave trade. However, it does not focus on his efforts to end slavery throughout the British Empire.

Twilight said...

Juanita's Journal ~~ Hi!
No, I haven't seen it yet, but that movie is on my list to seek out - soon.

Thanks for mentioning that - I almost mentioned it in the post, then, for some reason decided against it.