47. William IV, A.D. 1830—1837
George IV. had, as you know, no child living at the time of his death. His next brother, Frederick Duke of York, died before him, likewise without children, so the crown went to William, Duke of Clarence, third son of George III. He had been a sailor in his younger days, but was an elderly man when he came to the throne. He was a dull and not a very wise man, but good-natured and kind, and had an open, friendly, sailor manner; and his wife, Queen Adelaide, of Saxe-Meiningen, was an excellent woman, whom everyone respected. They never had any children but two daughters who died in infancy: and everyone knew that the next heir must be the Princess Victoria, daughter to the next brother, Edward, Duke of Kent, who had died the year after she was born.
King William IV. had always been friendly with the Whigs, who wanted power for the people. Those who went furthest among them were called Radicals, because they wanted a radical reform—that is, going to the root. In fact, it was time to alter the way of sending members to the House of Commons, for some of the towns that had once been big enough to choose one were now deserted and grown very small, while on the other hand, others which used to be little villages, like Birmingham and Brighton, had now become very large, and full of people.
The Duke of Wellington and his friends wanted to consider the best way of setting these things to rights, but the Radicals wanted to do much more and much faster than he was willing to grant. The poor fancied that the new rights proposed would make them better off all at once, and that every man would get a fat pig in his sty and as much bread as he wanted; and they were so angry at any delay, that they went about in bands burning the hay-ricks and stacks of corn, to frighten their landlords. And the Duke of Wellington's great deeds were forgotten in the anger of the mob, who gathered round him, ready to abuse and pelt him as he rode along; and yet, as they saw his quiet, calm way of going on, taking no heed to them, and quite fearless, no one raised a hand. They broke the windows of his house in London, though, and he had iron blinds put up to protect them. He went out of office, and the Whigs came in, and then the Act of Parliament was passed which was called the Reform bill—because it set to rights what had gone wrong as to which towns should have members of their own, and, besides, allowed everyone in a borough town, who rented a house at ten pounds a year, to vote for the member of Parliament. A borough is a town that has a member of Parliament, and a city is one that is large enough to have a mayor and an alderman to manage its affairs at home.
Several more changes were made under King William. Most of the great union workhouses were built then, and it was made less easy to get help from the parish without going to live in one. This was meant to cure people of being idle and liking to live on other folk's money—and it has done good in that way; but workhouses are sad places for the poor aged people who cannot work, and it is a great kindness to help them to keep out of them.
The best thing that was done was the setting the slaves free. Look at the map of America, and you will see a number of islands—beautiful places, where sugar-canes, and coffee, and spices grow. Many of these belong to the English, but it is too hot for Englishmen to work there. So, for more than a hundred years, there had been a wicked custom that ships should go to Africa, and there the crews would steal negro men, women and children, or buy them of tribes of fierce negroes who had made them captive, and carry them off to the West Indies Islands, where they were sold to work for their masters, just as cattle are bought and sold. An English gentleman—William Wilberforce—worked half his life to get this horrible slave trade forbidden; and at last he succeeded, in the year 1807, whilst George III. was still reigning. But though no more blacks were brought from Africa, still the people in the West Indies were allowed to keep, and buy and sell the slaves they already had. So Wilberforce and his friends still worked on until the time of William IV., when, in 1834, all the slaves in the British dominions were set free.
This reign only lasted seven years, and there were no wars in it; so the only other thing that I have to tell you about it is, that people had gone on from finding that steam could be made to work their ships to making it draw carriages. Railways were being made for trains of carriages and vans to be drawn by one steam engine. The oldest of all was opened in 1830, the very year that William IV. began to reign, and that answered so well that more and more began to be made, and the whole country to be covered with a network of railways, so the people and goods could be carried about much quicker than ever was dreamt of in old times; while steam-ships were made larger and larger, and to go greater distances.
Besides this, many people in England found there was not work or food enough for them at home, and went to settle in Canada, and Australia, and Van Dieman's Land, and New Zealand, making, in all these distant places, the new English homes called colonies; and thus there have come to be English people wherever the sun shines.
William IV. died in the year 1837. He was the last English king who had the German State of Hanover. It cannot belong to a woman, so it went to his brother Ernest, instead of his niece Victoria.