History Lesson –
FEB 27, 2020 – The most widely known telling of Wilberforce’s life, the 2006 movie Amazing Grace, insinuated Wilberforce quit using the substance, but he did not. In the 2007 biography of the same name, author Eric Metaxas argued, “Wilberforce did not appear to become addicted to it; he quite admirably managed to keep his dosage from increasing over the decades.” This was not the case.
The deepest look at Wilberforce’s opium use comes from John Pollock, a Christian author and the oﬃcial biographer of Billy Graham. In 1788 at the age of 29, Wilberforce began using at the recommendation of his doctor, likely to treat ulcerative colitis. There were periods when Wilberforce attempted to quit, always without success. In his diaries, Wilberforce acknowledges that if he missed his evening dose, he would wake up sick and be “forced to lie in bed, great sneezing and other signs of spasm.”
By 1796 Wilberforce’s daily dose was 5 grains. Over the decades it rose to 12 grains and would increase in cold weather or when he had other health problems. One observer characterized Wilberforce’s consumption habit as “the constant use of opium in large quantities.”