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©The Hanover Historical Review 1999.   Used by permission.
Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism:
Henry Ford and His War on Jews
by Jonathan R. Logsdon
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          Ford found himself in the press spotlight again in 1919, when a $1 million libel suit he had filed against the Chicago Tribune went to court. A June 23, 1916 editorial, entitled "Ford is an Anarchist," had characterized Ford as an "ignorant idealist," an "anarchist enemy of the nation," and as being "so incapable" of thought that he cannot see the ignominy of his own performance."6 In Ford's defense, the article was based on a false report that Ford would not guarantee the jobs of workers who were called away for military operations. However; this did not prevent Ford from enduring one of the most embarrassing episodes of his career. When Ford took the stand, Tribune lawyer Elliott Stevenson took issue with his influence on the public. "You call yourself an educator;" he noted to Ford. "Now I shall inquire whether you were a well informed man, competent to educate people."7 Stevenson then launched into a series of questions which Ford's lawyer; Alfred Lucking, had been dreading:

"Have there ever been any revolutions in this country?"
"There was, I understand."
"In 1812."
"Did you ever hear of Benedict Arnold?" "I have heard the name."
"Who was he?"
"I have forgotten just who he is. He is a writer; I think."8

          Eventually, Ford was forced to admit to Stevenson that he was "ignorant about most things."9 After enduring the cross-examination for a grueling six days, Ford left the witness stand, vowing, "Never again." The jury eventually ruled in favor of Ford, but awarded him, as damages, the insulting sum of $.06. The press had a field day over the trial's outcome. One paper described Ford as "a man with a vision distorted and limited by his lack of information," while The Nation commented that "the unveiling of Mr. Ford has much of the pitiful about it, if not the tragic."10 Most brutal of all had been Stevenson's closing remarks to the jury, in which he declared that he had never been so shocked as he was in this case "when Henry Ford disclosed the pitiable condition of his mind."11

          Ford, however; was not in court to hear Stevenson's comments. He had departed on a camping trip with his good friends Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs, their third such outing together. During this particular trip, Burroughs noted in his diary that: "Mr. Ford attributes all evil to the Jews or Jewish capitalists- the Jews caused the war; the Jews caused the outbreak of thieving and robbing all over the country, the Jews caused the inefficiency of the navy which Edison talked about last night."12

          By now, it was not just close acquaintances to whom Ford was expressing such anti-Semitic beliefs. An executive at the Ford Company was up late one night and decided to tide himself over with a candy bar. Ford walked up to the man, started some small talk, and took a bite of the man's snack. A look of dissatisfaction came over his face. "This stuff isn't as good as it used to be, is it?" The executive replied that he had not noticed any change. "The Jews have taken hold of it," Ford replied. "They're cheapening it to make more money out of it." Since it happened to be the fourth anniversary of the ill-fated Peace Ship expedition, the subject came up in their ensuing conversation. "What did you get out of that trip, Mr. Ford?" the executive enquired. "I know who makes the wars," Ford responded. "The international Jewish bankers arrange them so they can make money out of them." He then cryptically added, "I know it's true because a Jew on the Peace Ship told me.. .That man knew what he was talking about- gave me the whole story. We're going to tell the whole story one of these days and show them up!"13

          By this time, Ford had been in possession of The Dearborn Independent for several months. A typical small country newspaper of the time, it was Ford's intention to use it as his public mouthpiece. He had "practical" ideas that he wanted to give to the public "without having them garbled, distorted, or misrepresented. "14 In order to promote its absolute purity against outside influences, Ford refused to accept advertising among its pages. He hired as Editor-in-Chief E.G. Pipp, who had served for 12 years as manager and editor of the Detroit News. Pipp shared Ford's outspoken liberalism and was quite pleased with the chance to work with him.

          Ford also hired William J. Cameron, another veteran of the Detroit News, to ghostwrite "Mr. Ford's Own Page." The bookish Cameron had been nicknamed the "Walking Dictionary" at the News. He was unflatteringly described by one Ford associate as a "short, stout, round-faced man; he looked and talked a lot like W.C. Fields, with the difference that Fields was funny."15 Cameron was also liberal in his outlook, and had formerly been a village preacher for six years in Brooklyn, Michigan.16 He was also well known among prominent local Jews. Philip Slomovitz, editor of the Detroit Jewish News, recalled that "he always appeared at Jewish meetings back then and was always supportive of our community."17

          Ford addressed his newspaper to the "common people." When he began to expand its circulation, two-thirds of its readers lived in small towns or in the country. Ford himself had been born and raised on a farm outside of Dearborn and was extremely proud of his origins. An early article in the Independent claimed that the real United States was located outside of the cities. "When we stand up and sing 'My Country Tis of Thee'" the article noted, "we seldom think of the city." Likewise, rural Americans looked affectionately to Ford as one of their own. Significantly, it was rural publications that had defended Ford after his disastrous trial testimony. The Ohio State Journal admitted Ford's ignorance, but added, "We sort of like old Henry Ford, anyway,"18 while the Nebraska State Journal chided that "The Tribune was silly."19

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End Notes

6. Gelderman, 154.

7. Gelderman, 177.

8. Ibid., 178, 180.

9. Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Fords: An American Dynasty, (New York: Summit Books, 1987), 89

10. Gelderman, 191.

11. Ibid., 188.

12. Jardin, 141.

13. William C. Richards, The Last Billionaire: Henry Ford, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976), 90.

14. David Lewis, The Public Image of Henry Ford, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press,1976), 135.

15. Harry Bennett, Ford: We Never Called Him Henry, (New York: Tor Books, 1987), 85.

16. Keith Sward, The Legend of Henry Ford, (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1948), 148.

17. Albert Lee, Henry Ford and the Jews, (New York: Stein and Day, 1980), 18.

18. Sward, 192.

19. Gelderman, 192.

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