WHITE, John (1699-1769), of Wallingwells, Notts.
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Family and Education
b. 2 Dec. 1699, 1st s. of Thomas White, M.P., of Tuxford, Notts. by Bridget, da. and h. of Richard Taylor, M.P., of Wallingwells. unm. suc. fa. 30 Sept. 1732.
John White’s father represented Retford for twenty years between 1701 and 1732, and his maternal grandfather from 1690 to 1698. White, in addition to his family interest, had the support of the Duke of Newcastle, who controlled one, and sometimes both, seats. The two men were close friends—‘I think I can say’, Newcastle wrote to White on 25 Mar. 1761,1 ‘that except for my Lord Hardwicke (and even he not more) I have no one friend in any county or place who has invariably stood by me like yourself.’ Newcastle left to him the management of East Retford, and trusted him implicitly. He was always ‘honest Jack White’ to Newcastle, whom he followed loyally through all turns of political fortune.
White was a Dissenter and a Whig, of a type which by 1754 was almost extinct. Independent and forthright, he is never known to have asked for place or favour for himself. He was a professed enemy to colonial wars, Church Establishment, and the militia; and distrusted equally Bute and Chatham. ‘Peace and two shillings [land tax] till we must have four’, he wrote to Newcastle on 30 June 1755, ‘is my whole system of politics.’ And he concluded a letter of 27 July 1761: ‘I cannot stop without wishing ease to your Grace, peace to Great Britain, and a somewhat better price than 14 shillings the quartern on barley.’2 Only two speeches by him are recorded in the period 1754 to 1768: on the peace preliminaries, 10 Dec. 1762, and on a point of order in a debate on the Regency, 9 May 1765.
During the last years of Newcastle’s life White was the only man of his generation who had remained on close terms with him. On 28 July 1764 Newcastle complained to his nephew and heir, Lord Lincoln: ‘I have nobody to resort to to tell my own tale to; nobody who I can flatter myself will advise me for my own sake; and, what is still worse, none or few of my most private intimate friends who like to pass much time with me.’3 From 1765 to 1767 he sent White a regular narrative of political events, as much to relieve his own mind as to inform White; and confided in him as he could have done in no one else.4 On many political matters White and Newcastle differed from their younger associates: e.g. both thought the Declaratory Act unwise, and deprecated opposition to the Chatham Administration.
But while Newcastle’s political appetite was never satiated, White, in the last years of his life, gives the impression of being weary and anxious for retirement. After the Rockinghams had broken with Chatham, Newcastle was eager for a union of the Opposition parties; but White preferred the Rockinghams ‘to stand on their own bottom’—‘it does not signify how small the bottom is, provided the world have a good opinion of the men’. He lost control at East Retford, and at the general election of 1768 declined the poll. Rockingham wrote to Newcastle on 16 Mar. 1768:
Our friend White was a little too reluctant to take trouble. I really believe he always saw his difficulties at Retford, which instead of trying to remedy by a little activity, he fairly avoided even the appearance of being in earnest till it was too late, and was not perhaps in truth sorry to find his success impossible.5
Edmund Burke wrote to Rockingham on 30 July 1769 about his pamphlet Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents:
I had some notion of casting it into the form of a letter addressed to a person who had long been in Parliament and is now retired, with all his old principles and regards still fresh and alive—I mean old Mr. White.
White died 7 Sept. 1769.