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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's second major statement on the subject was found in his 1922 autobiography written with Samuel Crowther, My Life and Work. In it Ford again denied any overt anti-Semitism on his part: "Readers of our articles will see at once that we are not actuated by any kind of prejudice, except maybe prejudice in favor of the principles which have made our civilization."124 However, Ford went on to state that "There had been observed in this country certain streams of influence which were causing a marked deterioration in our literature, amusements, and social conduct.... A general letting down of standards was felt everywhere. It was not the robust coarseness of the white man.., but a nasty Orientalism which has insidiously affected every channel of expression- and to such an extent that it was time to challenge it. The fact that these influences are traceable to one racial source is a fact to be reckoned with, not by us only, but by the intelligent people of the race in question."125 Ford continued, and revealed his obvious religious prejudice in the process: "For the present, then, the question is wholly in the Jews' hands. If they are as wise as they claim to be, they will labour to make Jews American instead of labouring to make America Jewish. The genius of the United States is Christian in the broadest sense and its destiny is to remain Christian." He ended his defense on the arrogant note that "Time will show that we are the better friends to the Jews' best interest than those who praise them to their faces and criticize them behind their backs."126

          Ford's autobiography revealed an anti-Semitism that had been commonplace in the rural Michigan of his youth. In the mid-late 1800's, Jews were seen as non-Americans by "nativist" Populists, as racially inferior human beings by Social Darwinists, and as the murderers of Christ by Bible Belt Protestants. Jews had not been a common sight in Ford's boyhood Dearborn, except for an occasional roaming salesman. However; stereotypes of them abounded. During the Civil War; The Chicago Tribune attacked "Belmont, the Rothchilds, and the whole tribe of Jews, who have been buying up Confederate bonds."127 General Grant even attempted to expel all Jews, including women and children, from Union occupied Tennessee and Mississippi for "violating every regulation of trade established by the treasury    The order was later overturned by President Lincoln.128 In a 1921 interview, Ford would state that "one of the great factors behind the Civil War; that brought it on and made peaceable settlement of the issues impossible, was the Jew."129 Anti-Jewish stereotypes also flourished in popular entertainment of the era. The Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, featured the menacing figure of Fagin. On the stage, Edwin Booth and Henry Irving both traveled the Midwest in productions of "The Merchant of Venice," a play famous for its evil Jewish character of Shylock.130

          Beginning in the 1870's, a large number of Jewish immigrants began to arrive in the United States from Eastern Europe. One of the places in which they settled in large numbers was Detroit. These new immigrants were often characterized as being either petty criminals or lecherous merchants and were blamed by many for the economic slump of the 1890's. This seemed to mirror the accusations Ford leveled against Jews during the economic decline of immediate post World War America. The very first issue of the Independent under him stated that "We ought to double our guard against any of the old dangerous things creeping back to their former places."131

           A depiction of Jews typical of the late 19th century America which molded Ford can be found in Albert W. Aikens' 1881 novel, The Wolves of New York: "His face was a peculiar one, the skin being as yellow as parchment; the chin was covered with a heavy gray-black beard, which was as kinky as the wool of an African; the hair of his head resembled the beard, both in color and in character; although worn quite long; and from under his bushy eyebrows looked eyes, ferret-like in their sharpness.... His dress suited well his face; a very long coat, half 'ulster' and half body-coat, rather the worse for wear; covered him from, neck to heels. His long, muscular-looking hands were incased in dingy brown gloves which, somehow, gave one an idea of the talons of some fierce and rapacious bird of prey... 'You ish Mister Von Trompp?' the man asked with a strong German-Jew accent. 'Yes, sir; that is my name.' 'And mine is Solomons- Moses Solomons. I have an office in Wall Street; I am a broker and also do a leetle business in bill discounting; anything, you know, to make de honest penny,' and the old fellow chuckled and rubbed his hands. Von Tramp had never met one of this fraternity before, yet had often heard of them. As the jackals wait upon the lions, the vultures upon the battlefield, the camp-bummers on the march of the victorious army, so upon the outskirts of business a gang of disreputable wretches eager for prey and plunder...."132

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End Notes

124. Henry Ford with Samuel Crowther, My Life and Work (New York: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1922), 251.

125. Ford, 252.

126. Ibid.

127. Sachar, 78.

128. Ibid., 79.

129. New York Times, 5 December 1921, 33.

130. Sachar, 81.

131. New York Times, 10 January 1919, 11.

132. Michael Seizer (Ed.), Kike! A Documentary History of Anti-Semitism in America (NewYork: The World Publishing Company, 1972), 42-43. Richards, 163.

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