Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

By Jacob H. Dorn | Go to book overview

7
Christianity, Democracy, and Socialism: Bouck White's Kingdom of Self-Respect

Mary E. Kenton

Bouck White, one of New York City's most notorious radicals in the World War I era, was born in Middleburgh, New York, on 20 October 1874. 1 He was christened Charles Browning in honor of his father and paternal grandfather. His birth completed the family of Charles Addison and Mary Jane White; their only other child was a daughter, Alice. When noticing that the Whites had been "son struck," the local newspaper mentioned that "Charlie," a dry-goods merchant in the small Catskill village, had ordered a case of boots in honor of the occasion. 2 In this prosaic way was the fiery and visionary personality of Bouck White introduced to the world. But certainly the editor of the Middleburgh Gazette had no reason to suspect that the son of the well-to-do Methodist and prohibitionist Whites would grow up to declare commerce the root of all evil, to proclaim Jesus a socialist, and to advocate New York City's secession from the United States to become an independent wet republic.

The Whites' roots in upstate New York went back to colonial times. Though mostly farmers, laborers, and blacksmiths, the family had produced a Democratic governor in the 1840s, Mary Jane's great-grandfather, William C. Bouck. 3 There is also family lore of a distant ancestor marrying an "Indian maid," a theme that Bouck returned to much later in his life. 4 Bouck's paternal grandfather, Brownen White, was notoriously shrewd, hardworking, and parsimonious. When he died intestate in 1878, he left a small fortune of $20,000 to Charles, enough for him to sell his store and live the life of a country gentleman. A proud and vain man, he enjoyed rumors of his great wealth and later bragged that he had never worked a day in his life. 5

Left with nothing useful to do, Charles devoted himself to managing his family and his money. A petty tyrant who bought his wife's clothes and often humiliated her in public, Charles made all the decisions concerning the two children. Fortunately for everyone, he took a long trip each winter to Florida to oversee his

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