A Remembrance of John Z. White

George T. Tideman, John L. Monroe
and Henry L. T. Tideman

[Excerpts from a booklet distributed in Chicago by the Henry George Fellowship, 1944]

Remarks of the Chairman: George T. Tideman

John Z. White was born in New York State August 8,1854. On the 8th of October, 1945 at the home of his kinsman and friend, Gordon White in Riverdale, a suburb of Chicago, Mr. White died of a ripe old age. He was a descendant of Peregreen White, the first male child born to the pioneers of Plymouth in 1620. When seven years old he came with his parents to Illinois. In Chicago he learned the printer's trade and he set up his own shop; but his talent as a lucid, witty and fascinating speaker in teaching the economics of freedom, soon took him out of the printing office. Henry George made good use of his speaking talents in the campaigns in New York.

John Z, White championed democracy in season and out. In war time we always hear much about the sanctity of freedom and the great faith which men in all walks of life cherish for it. Kings, corporations and common men repeated again and again that we were at war to preserve our freedom. You read it in the advertisements, the editorials, you heard it in the sermons. Yet the cold fact remains and bears down on us like an immense weight, that the freedom we have worked and fought for with the total industrial, and military force of all the democracies and their allies, turns to ashes in our grasp like "apples of Sodom" .

The great war is victoriously over, but everywhere men and women are on strike for a living wage. Within the memory of living men we have witnessed the repeated cycle of depressions following the prosperity of war production. Now from many authentic sources, such as The Department of The Treasury, we hear of the imminence of yet another depression to follow in the wake of this war. The rather disturbing thing about this whole affair is that although the people and their leaders in civics, press and politics are painfully aware of the increasing dangers, they are largely repeating the same old bromides that now as formerly lead only to confusion. Chancellor Hutchins of the University of Chicago, though bolder than most, gives us a classic example of this: He would have us read and store up a mass of knowledge and presents his list of "The ten greatest writers". Of course much knowledge may be gleaned from them, but what one of them integrates that knowledge to make the present problems understandable let alone resolvable? As Herbert Spencer truly said, "If a man's knowledge is not in order, the more of it he has the greater is his confusion". If this is the best leadership our learned men have to give us we are lost, and the next depression which will again kindle the fires of the doctrine of despair in the hearts of men will easily lead to war and this time it will be death, for our engines of destruction have reached the ultimate. Is the story of "Rossum's Universal Robots " to become the prophecy? If we would save ourselves from a universal carnival of destruction we must develop the courage to do our own thinking and to face the truth. Am I unduly apprehensive? Among our scientists I have considerable company. Here is a quotation from an item in the Chicago Daily News: "A firm belief that America may be destroyed within ten years has brought a social revolution in the lives of hundreds of American scientists". In the same article someone was quoted as saying that "forty to sixty million people will die". From all this confusion of tongues and special interests, of fears and threats, of promises made and promises impossible to keep, we shall hang the plumb-line of equity and hold the level of equality. For no system of government will survive which is not just, and no civilization will persist which fails to level itself to the basic insistence of democracy. I speak of that democracy which is defined as "Association in equality". That definition I take from Henry George the author of Progress and Poverty and if we really want to be saved, we better do a lot of paying attention to the practical ideas of Henry George.

Now I know there are people who say there is no equality, all men are different, etc. Well, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and John Z. White knew that equality does not mean sameness. All horses are different, but when running a race, all start from the same line, all get the same opportunity. That is what democracy is supposed to do for men: Put them all on an equal footing and let the best man win all that he can rightfully earn, but never in such a way as to interfere with equal rights of his fellows to do the same, I really believe that the difficulty is not so very great. We will not have to read so many unreadable books. All that is required is that we shall be vigilant and use our perceptions. It is the common sense, the dignity, the innate spirit of justice in man, upon which we must rely and fasten our faith. For is it not true that once a man is exposed to the truth that he is in a manner of speaking, chemically changed?

For some twenty odd years John Z. White traveled all over this country and Canada exposing people to the truth. Even in retirement in his old age he never declined an invitation to speak here in Chicago. Some day the people will come into their own, and certainly because of John Z. White that day has been brought nearer.


The Chairman:

The legend of John Z. White is inexplicably laced to the consecrated devotion which Frederick H. Monroe gave to the cause of democracy. For Mr. Monroe gave up a lucrative business to found the Henry George Lecture Association, and under its auspices he correctly appraised Mr. White's talent, "dragged him by the hair out of the printing office" as I once heard Louis F. Post aver and put him on the lecture platform. The late F. H. Monroe bequeathed his faith and fire to his son, John L. Monroe, who is singularly qualified to join us in rendering homage to John Z. White.

Mr. Monroe:

No man ever had a greater admirer than John Z. White had in my father.

My mother has told me of the first time she and my father attended the old Chicago Single Tax Club together back in the nineties. Across the room, surrounded by an animated throng, was the Mr. White - a handsome flashing figure of a young man, with his hat tilted on his head, eyes bright, and a chuckling greeting to each friend. My father pointed him out to my mother. "There's John Z. White" he said in awe.

There have been more famous collaborators than John and my father: Gilbert and Sullivan, Nordhoff and Hall, Gobden and in our own early work of the School, Oscar Geiger and Joseph Miller. But none had as a base more of a "mutual devotion to the-true " , which Carlyle calls the foundation of friendship, than these two men. Theirs was a partnership that lasted for nearly a quarter of a century during which each virtually placed his life in the hands of the other.

My father was the silent partner. He could not speak but he could sell. He could keep John Z. in the field, not only as his spokesman for the thousands who believed with them in the principles for which Henry George stood, but for the thousands and thousands of just plain people who needed a champion of equal rights. My father sold John Z. in a city to city, door to door canvass of the United States and Canada for twenty three years. Wherever there were friends of Henry George there my father sought them out and asked their aid in keeping the Chicagoan on the road in the most consistent barnstorming education campaign in the history of economic thought.

George A. Schilling who, incidentally, is immortalized in the new novel about Altgeld by Howard Fast, was walking down Street one afternoon in 1903. He met my father. "Monroe" he said, "I have a one way ticket to New York City. Can you use it?" My father … took the ticket, put the world of business behind him, and went to New York determined to get John Z. White into the lecture field of the Nation, full time.

For twenty years Mr. White had been a prominent member of the movement which Henry George originated, and his local reputation had been heard abroad. John Z. though he had studied the law, held aloof from the practice of law because he was less interested in the law as it was, than in the law as it ought to be. Instead he came into the printing off ice, where he was at this time making his living as a journeyman printer. He spent his leisure in promoting the cause to which he was devoted. The resulting prominence to himself brought him into politics, and he was twice a candidate for Congress. …

The Chairman:

Given democracy as a common goal, and freedom as a common means to achieve that goal, we discover a universal and enduring bond of fraternity. I dare say that if there was one man in this world our next speaker, Mr. Henry L. T. Tideman loved and admired more than any other, that man was John Z. White.

Mr. Tideman:

Whose are the great names that mankind delights to honor all down the centuries? For what did they stand and for what did they, live?

In the ancient record is the story of Moses who took a race of slaves from the house of bondage and for forty years drilled them in the desert until he had made of them a race of conquerors with a set of institutions designed to keep them free men. His leadership seemed a tyranny and when he died it was boasted that no one knew where he was buried. His only monument was the ideal of freedom he had instilled into the minds of his followers. But with the passage of time men began to neglect that ideal and as a consequence trouble and destruction descended upon that nation.

Then came another, a disturber of men's complacency, Jesus of Nazareth, preaching the equality and dignity of the individual man. The aristocracy of that day got rid of Him in a fashion that should discourage others from following His example. But a dozen men who had learned from Him took the message and transformed the world of ideas. His message is not yet accepted wholly; but all the world reveres his memory.

Looking away from ancient history, let us glance at the history of our own land. Whose are the great names to whom honor is paid. Are they men conspicuous because of fortune? They are men of the world of ideas.

There is George Mason, conspicuous as the author of the Virginia Declaration which to Thomas Jefferson was the inspiration under which he wrote The Declaration of Independence.

Where do we find more heart stirring words than these which Jefferson wrote into that Declaration? "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Here we have the basis on which the moral evolution of man depends. The right to live, since man can live only upon the earth and must get all his subsistence from the earth, means that he must be free to labor the land for his support.

Man must be free; none may enslave his fellow; none may prevent him from going any place upon the earth, taking his goods with him; none may despoil him of the fruit of his labor.

The pursuit of happiness; how do men pursue their happiness? Is it not by the thought and labor by which they support their bodies and seek satisfaction of the yearnings of the spirit?

So we come to recent times for the great name associated with the examination of why we have not succeeded in establishing conditions under which the spirit of man might rise to the height of its possibilities. Henry George in his Progress and Poverty, asks and answers the question: Why in spite of material progress do wages tend to the minimum that will give man but a bare living?" Answering he tells us that the demands of justice require that we shall treat landasour common property and leave sacred to the individual every thing that urges men toward the production of wealth and the development of ideas.

This suggestion, which reduced to practical measures, instead of requiring a great bureaucracy for the administration of our lands and the collection of rents of the land, Henry George reduced to the simple proposal that all taxes should be abolished except the taxation of land values and that taxation be increased to take as nearly as practicable the entire rent of land.

Now we come to our own time and .the present occasion where we are gathered to do honor to the memory of John Z. White, the greatest of the apostles of the gospel of Henry George. When we contemplate the unselfish devotion of this great man, his powerful intellect, the greatness of his view of the possibilities of our erring race, and his unwavering faith in the beneficence of the natural law, we would do well, I am convinced, to take renewed devotion to the cause which in common with us he loved so well, and that we highly resolve that henceforth we shall devote our affections and our best efforts to achieve the most our abilities will permit, for the cause to which he so nobly devoted his life.