Gandhi and Wilberforce ~ A Compare and Contrast





This is a paper I wrote for school, and I thought/hope it was good enough to share.

Tere are many types of people in history.  In all this mass of different people, there are two extremes: there are the bad who choose to wreak havoc on those around them, and there are the good who choose to help others.  While both make an interesting study, the good are the people we really should try to read and learn about because they are the people who can make us grow.  The good are the ones we can use as role models, the good are the ones who remind us that apparently impossible goals might not be as out of our reach as we think, the good are the ones who remind us to keep fighting in the face of hardships, because we’re fighting for something much larger than ourselves.  Yes, the good are the ones to look at, and model ourselves after, and ultimately, to help guide us along as we decide if and how we are going to make a difference in this world.

Out of the countless good people in history – some recorded in the textbooks, some who’s names are long forgotten – there are several who stand out because of the magnitude of what they have accomplished.  Two of these people are Mahatma Gandhi and William Wilberforce.  Both these men, living in such different cultures, made an impact on the world in their own way and methods.  It would be of interest to compare the two and see where they differed and where they were the same, and find out more about these two world changers.

I think most people have the general basics of these two men’s lives – sometimes so radically different and sometimes quite similar – that I will only give a brief reminder of their life and main accomplishments. 

I think John Piper sums up the basics of Wilberforce’s political career very well in the opening words of his book Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce“Against great obstacles William Wilberforce, an evangelical member of Parliament, fought for the abolition of the African slave trade and against slavery itself until they were both illegal in the British empire.  The battle consumed almost forty-six years of his life.”  Wilberforce lived from 1759 to 1833.

Gandhi also worked for freedom for himself and for others.  He fought for equal rights and harmony in the world during his life which lasted from 1869 to 1948.  It is the methods he used to go about it that has set him apart: peace and love.  With these methods he succeeded in quite a few of his goals.

The goals for these two men had at their core the same basic principle:  Freedom.  Wilberforce wanted freedom for the poor souls stuck in slavery.  Gandhi wanted to release his own people from the bondages of social discrimination, and he also wanted both the Hindus and Muslims to live together peacefully.

The methods that both used are quite different and interesting to look at.  Wilberforce chose to do go through the law, using his status as a member of parliament to present the legislation necessary to stop the slave trade.  Along side of this he gathered petitions, and slowly the gathering behind him grew to loud for England to ignore.  Without the bloody Civil War that America went through, with paper instead of lead, with his voice instead of a gun, he changed it all.  Already having bad health, who knows how much the work added to his problems?  He suffered a lot for the cause, but I have no doubt that he thought it all worth it for all that he accomplished.

Gandhi on the other hand did not to go through the law system, deciding instead to break down the barriers in peoples hearts.  The first thing he did was to gain the peoples hearts himself.  He loved all and for this love was given back to him.  To get the government on his side he used a system which was called “satyagraha”.  This method was based on non-violent revolts.  When he thought that his followers were not doing what they should be, or when he was trying to change something in government, he went on a fast until they changed.  These fasts, along with long pilgrimages, were no doubt hard to do, especially since he came close to death doing them occasionally.  Along with this, he had many enemies who would like no better to see him dead, and tried to kill him1.

What a person believes impacts what he does exponentially, especially their religion.  At first glance, the men’s faith in God appear to be the same.  Both claim to be Christians.  But take a closer look and you’ll find that like so many other things, both Wilberforce’s and Gandhi’s faiths were very different.

From what I have read from various sources, whether online or in books, Wilberforce was definitely a strong Christian.  He knew where his strength, his joy, and his call to duty came from.  He even wrote his own book on the subject: A Practical View of Christianity.  Indeed, his own quotes show what he believed so strongly.  One of the many things he said on the subject was:

“If we would…rejoice in [Christ] as triumphantly as the first Christians did; we must learn, like them to repose our entire trust in him and to adopt the language of the apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ…. Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.””2

John Piper’s book on Wilberforce is full of evidence for his strong faith in God, and if you are curious to learn more about it, I would recommend Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce.  It is a spectacular read.

Now we take a look at Gandhi’s faith.  At first, finding quotes like: “There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever” and “When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the Creator3 it appears that his love for everyone has a Christian core.  He claims so.  The issue is that he also claims to be Hindu, Jew, and Moslem as well.4  He says:

“I believe in the fundamental Truth of all the great religions of the world. I believe that they are all God given. I came to the conclusion long ago… that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them.”5

That definitely doesn’t sound like someone who really knows God and what He stands for!  And so you see that what was driving Gandhi on was not what was driving on Wilberforce: Christendom.  So what did drive him on?  I think he had a sense of freedom and the desire for it, and that even once he was free of prejudice, he sought to free others as well.  He had a humanitarian instinct, and loved everyone around him, and God used this instinct to work good in the world.

I think what I like most about studying both these men is the underlying message that is contained in both their stories.  They both had a change they wanted to see in the world, and both changes were near impossible.  During Wilberforce’s life the slave trade was a well established and lucrative business, ships sometimes bringing in a 300% profit6.  No doubt few were willing to end their profits.  Gandhi on the other hand sought to uproot the deeply engrained mindset of not only the oppressors but the oppressed.  Whether it was how the British and the Indian people felt towards each other, or the Hindus and Muslims, he tried to spread the love that he shared for everyone to everyone else in a country full of hate.  These men both tried the impossible, trusting that with enough love, and with enough work, they could move the mountains of peoples will.  And they did.  It shows that sometimes you have to make a step in faith and pray others will follow in that step and join you in your fight.

Here we end a very interesting comparison between two very interesting people.  For various reasons, and with various goals in mind, William Wilberforce and Mahatma Gandhi changed the world, one day, one speech, one act at a time.  Now, we could walk away from this paper, knowing more about two men and feeling appreciative of the world they left behind them.  But then this paper would be a hallow, worthless school project.  So walk away, but remember, and realize that though they left the world better, there’s still more to be done.  We all have the choice, every one of us, to decide whether we’ll be bystanders in this race we call life, or whether we will pick up the baton and carry on where other great people have left off.  What could we accomplish, if we tried as much as these two men?

1 Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer

2 See

3 Quotes from

4 Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer

5 Quotes from

6 See


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