A Remembrance of James H. Barry

Louis F. Post

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, November-December 1927]

ONE of the very few remaining friends of Henry George to cross the threshold of the year 1927 has passed over the line of earthly life. His name was James Henry Barry. To the country at large and even in his own city of San Francisco he was best known and most appreciated as the owner and editor of The San Francisco Star.

Barry was born at New York in the year 1856, about the time that Henry George was sailing the seas as "a common sailor." When the Barry boy was about three years old his family moved to San Francisco, where Henry George, then a young man of twenty, had already settled down as a printer, the identical trade that Barry was him self to learn, and of which he made a commercial business in 1879 the very year in which Henry George first published Progress and Poverty. At about this time, when George was somewhat more than forty and Barry about twenty-five, the two progressive typesetters came into personal contact.

Barry's Star was one of the first periodicals to advocate public ownership and operation of public service franchises; also equal rights for women, the initiative and referendum, and Henry George's economic principles and policies. In its editorial policy the Star was always frank and courageous.

That policy often brought Barry into uncomfortable situations. On one occasion, after he had denounced a well-known local editor for blackmailing schemes, two henchmen of the newspaper met him in the street probably by design and one deliberately spat in his face, with the intention undoubtedly of making Barry involuntarily reach for his handkerchief a gesture which could be wilfully misconstrued as reaching for a pistol, and be made an excuse for immediately shooting him down. But Barry, with lightning grasp of the situation and extraordinary self-control, walked calmly forward until beyond his assailant's reach.

Such hostility took another turn in 1890 when Barry's exposure in the Star of the corruption of a local judge subjected him to one-sided contempt proceedings. Barry was commanded to apologize. He refused on the ground that he could not conscientiously apologize for telling the truth, whereupon he was sentenced to a five-days' term in jail. He served the sentence, but on the night of his release the largest mass meeting ever held in San Francisco, and attended by all classes of people, demanded a radical amendment of the law regarding contempt of court, a demand which resulted in the adoption of "the Barry law" which deprives California judges of their old power to punish their critics without a jury trial.

Among other services incidental to Barry's journalistic and business activities was his leadership in introducing the eight-hour workday in the printing trade along the Pacific Coast.

In politics Barry was a democratic Democrat. This was his reason for supporting Bryan for the Presidency, and Wilson as Bryan's choice. Under Wilson he served for eight years as Naval Officer at the Port of San Francisco, resigning in 1921. At about that time he withdrew from his printing establishment and terminated the career of the San Francisco Star, which for many years he had edited and for many years had financed out of the earnings of his printing establishment rather than swap its economic and political principles for deceptive advertising.

James H. Barry was a straight man from the ground up. He was devoted to the principles of natural and moral law and to policies in so far as they were handmaidens of principle. He was a friend of Henry George to the heart's core and Henry George of him. They were Democrats of the same variety, Christians of the same type, and men of like mould.