| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
WILLIAM IV.—THE STORY OF TWO PEACEFUL VICTORIES
 GEORGE IV. had only one child, a daughter, and she died some
time before her father, so he was succeeded by his brother
William, who was sixty-five years old when he came to the
William was called the Sailor King because he had served in
the navy. He was bluff and rough and good-natured, not at
all like a King. He used to be fond of strolling about
London with a walking-stick or an umbrella just like an
ordinary man. But British people have always loved a sailor,
so they were glad when William became King, and hoped that
he would prove a better one than George IV.
That some of his people had not much reverence for him, is
shown by one man who wrote of him, "He seems a kind-hearted,
well-meaning, not stupid, bustling old fellow, and if he
doesn't go mad, may make a very decent King." Later the same
man called him, "One of the silliest old gentlemen in his
dominions." If he had been left to himself, the
"Well-meaning old fellow" would have been quite pleased to
jog along without troubling about his kingdom or his duties.
But that was not to be. The days of the clatter and jangle
of steel armour were over, the roar and crackle of musket and
 silent for the time, but in the peace and
silence men were thinking and planning and working for the
good of the nation.
For hundreds of years the people of Britain had had the
right of choosing men to send to Parliament to tell their
troubles and their wrongs, and to help to make just laws for
the ruling of the country. The whole nation, of course,
cannot go to Westminster, for no building would be large
enough to contain them all, and the talking would never be
finished, and no laws would ever be made. So each country
and each big town chooses a man who goes to Parliament to
speak and vote in the name of those who send him.
That is what is intended, but at this time the reality was
something quite different.
During the hundreds of years which had passed since it had
been first arranged which towns should send members to
Parliament, there had been many changes. Places which had
once been large towns had for some reason or another become
deserted. Where there had been houses, churches, shops, and
crowded, busy streets, there was now perhaps only one lonely
house, or perhaps only a deserted hillside. Yet that lonely
house or deserted hillside continued to send a member to
Parliament. On the other hand since factories had been
built, great towns had sprung up, where a hundred years
before there had been perhaps only a single cottage. But
these great towns with all their hard-working people had no
right to send a member to Parliament, and could have no
voice in making the laws.
This seems very absurd. Nowadays, we think it would be quite
easy for any sensible man to see that this state of affairs
was wrong. But a hundred years ago many sensible people did
not see it. They were
 pleased with things as they were, and
very angry with those who tried to alter them.
But some people were quite determined they should be
altered, and two men called Lord Grey and Lord John Russell,
brought into Parliament what is called the Reform Bill. This
Bill took the right of sending any one to Parliament away
from the bare and lonely hillsides, and gave the right to
the new and busy towns, so that the people should really be
represented, that is, should have some one in Parliament to
act and speak for them.
There was a long and fierce struggle before this Bill became
law. You know that there are two Houses of Parliament, the
House of Commons and the House of Lords. A bill to become
law must be read in both Houses, and must be voted for by
the greater number of the members in each. That is, more
than half the members must vote for it. For instance, if
there were only one hundred members, at least fifty-one must
vote for a bill before it is said to have passed. Having
passed both Houses, it must receive the consent of the King,
before it can become law.
After a great deal of difficulty the Commons were made to
consent to the Reform Bill, but the Lords did not want it,
neither did the King, and again and again they refused
The country, however, had become so determined about it that
there were riots everywhere when it became known that the
Lords would not pass the Bill. The people who had been quite
ready to love their King began to hate him, and instead of
cheering when he appeared, they hissed and groaned.
So bitter did the feeling become that the friends of the
Bill feared there would be another revolution, and at last
 they forced the King to give his consent. The Lords
followed, and the Bill became law.
One more step toward liberty had been taken.
Another great thing which happened during the reign of
William IV. was the freeing of slaves.
For many years people had been in the habit of stealing
black people from their homes in Africa, and selling them as
slaves in the colonies. People had grown so used to it that
they did not see how wicked and cruel this was. These poor
black people were taken to market and sold like cattle, they
were branded like cattle, and beaten like cattle. They had
to work very hard, were paid no wages, and were often very
cruelly treated. All masters, of course, were not cruel,
some of them were even kind to their poor slaves, but still
they had very unhappy lives. They had no rights whatever,
their children might be taken from them and sold, sometimes
even husbands and wives were sold to different masters, and
never saw each other again. A master might treat his slaves
as badly as he chose, and no one could punish him.
In the old, rough, wild days no one cared about the
sufferings of these poor black people. They were only
niggers, and made for work and suffering, and nothing was
thought about it.
But, as time went on, people became less rough and more
kind-hearted, and good men began to try to make people see
the wickedness of slavery. For some years, a man called
Wilberforce had been doing his best, and now he was joined
by others, among whom was Macaulay, the father of the great
writer. Mr. Macaulay had himself been a manager of a sugar
plantation in the West Indies where slaves worked. But he
gave up his post because he could not bear to see the misery
 and unhappiness of the slaves, and came home to try to do
something for them.
It was not a very easy thing to do, because all the work on
the sugar and coffee plantations in the West Indies was done
by slaves. The planters said they would be ruined if the
slaves were made free, as the black people would not work
unless they were forced to do so. Besides, they had paid a
great deal of money for their slaves, and it seemed unfair
that they should be made to lose it all.
But, at last, all difficulties were smoothed away. The
British Parliament said they would give twenty millions of
money to the planters to make up for what they would lose in
freeing their slaves, and, in the year 1834 A.D., most of
them were set free.
Many other things were done during the reign of William IV.,
which you will find more interesting when you grow older. He
died on 20th June 1837 A.D., having reigned seven years.
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