Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech

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Henry Ford is remembered in American lore as the ultimate entrepreneur—the man who invented assembly-line manufacturing and made automobiles affordable. Largely forgotten is his side career as a publisher of antisemitic propaganda. This is the story of Ford's ownership of the Dearborn Independent, his involvement in the defamatory articles it ran, and the two Jewish lawyers, Aaron Sapiro and Louis Marshall, who each tried to stop Ford's war.

In 1927, the case of Sapiro v. Ford ...

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Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech

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Henry Ford is remembered in American lore as the ultimate entrepreneur—the man who invented assembly-line manufacturing and made automobiles affordable. Largely forgotten is his side career as a publisher of antisemitic propaganda. This is the story of Ford's ownership of the Dearborn Independent, his involvement in the defamatory articles it ran, and the two Jewish lawyers, Aaron Sapiro and Louis Marshall, who each tried to stop Ford's war.

In 1927, the case of Sapiro v. Ford transfixed the nation. In order to end the embarrassing litigation, Ford apologized for the one thing he would never have lost on in court: the offense of hate speech.

Using never-before-discovered evidence from archives and private family collections, this study reveals the depth of Ford's involvement in every aspect of this case and explains why Jewish civil rights lawyers and religious leaders were deeply divided over how to handle Ford.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Woeste [delivers an] in-depth [analysis] rich with ethnographic and historical detail . . . [O]ne discovers a [theme], that fostering meaningful equality in diverse communities can only be done where law is not willfully color-blind . . . [Woeste provides] the sort of nuanced and substantive discussions of diversity that [is] sorely needed in public discourse today."—Tanya Katerí Hernández, Journal of Legal Education

"Victoria Woeste has written a brilliantly detailed account of the responses to Ford's 'War on Jews,' focusing on two leading American Jewish lawyers: Louis Marshall and Aaron Sapiro . . . One of the signal virtues of this fine book, then, is that it provides readers with ample, rich, and fascinating evidence on which to form their own views about its provocative arguments and conclusions."—William E. Forbath, Law and History Review

"[Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech] is an exciting, elegantly written, and meticulously researched book."—Klaus P. Fischer, American Historical Review

"Thoroughly researched and ably written, Henry Ford's War on Jews traces [Aaron] Sapiro's valiant attempt to defend not only his good name but that of the Jewish people."—Rafael Medoff, Journal of American Studies

"The book is useful for the historian, students of law, and students of American Jewish history."—Chaim Seymour, Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) Newsletter

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804788670
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2013
  • Pages: 424
  • Sales rank: 1,511,830
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Victoria Saker Woeste is Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago and has had teaching appointments at Indiana University-Indianapolis, Northwestern University, and Amherst College. Her first book was awarded the Law and Society Association's J. Willard Hurst Prize.

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Read an Excerpt



Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7234-1

Chapter One


If Henry Ford's mind is an oyster, I failed utterly to open it. —New Republic reporter, 1923

Henry Ford, the man who had everything, wanted to own a newspaper. In late 1918, as the nation celebrated the end of the Great War, Ford felt besieged. His once-impervious public image took a beating during the conflict. He had not yet recovered from the embarrassment of his failed peace mission to Europe in 1915, he had just narrowly lost a contentious race for a U.S. Senate seat in his own state, and he still faced two prolonged court battles. One was his libel suit against the Chicago Tribune, which had called him an "ignorant idealist" and an "anarchist" for opposing U.S. military preparedness on the Mexican border in 1916; the other was a messy battle with minority shareholders of the Ford Motor Company, led by the Dodge Brothers, who were suing to force Ford to pay stock dividends.

The fallout from these missteps and failed initiatives, not to mention the public relations debacle of keeping his son Edsel out of military service, was bruising. Ford blamed the national press, which was, he thought, "owned body and soul by bankers." For years, Ford made the press a useful, effective conduit for promoting his car, his company, and his down-home public image, but in the wake of his wartime blunders, he no longer viewed it as friendly: "'The capitalistic newspapers began a campaign against me. They misquoted me, distorted what I said, made up lies about me.'" What he wanted was access to the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans without having to pass through the biased filter of the mainstream press. He intended to make the paper his voice in the homes of his customers, and he planned to use the paper to do more than just market Model Ts. According to his most recent biographer, Steven Watts, Ford decided to buy the paper during his pacifism campaign, "when he became convinced that a hostile press was controlled by banks and other powerful financial interests." What he sought, in effect, was a paper and print version of a megaphone: an instrument that would amplify—but not alter—what he wanted to say.

It was a common practice for American industrial magnates to start or acquire newspapers. Having a media outlet at one's disposal made for a useful appurtenance to the business, whether it was steel or lumber or cars. As down-home and folksy as Ford portrayed himself to be in the public eye, he was also as savvy a consumer and user of modern media as any entrepreneur of his day. To promote his cars, he courted celebrity for himself, and he became adept at shaping his public image while managing the inquiries of a skeptical—or critical—press corps: "'I am very much interested in the future, not only of my own country, but of the whole world,' said Mr. Ford [in 1918], 'and I have definite ideas and ideals that I believe are practical for the good of all. I intend giving them to the public without having them garbled, distorted, and misrepresented.'"

When Ford entered the newspaper business, he started at the bottom and rebuilt, by buying his small, failing hometown newspaper. In 1918 the Dearborn Independent was a sleepy suburban weekly, "a typical small-town publication which had been in business since the turn of the century" but was barely hanging on to one thousand subscribers. Intent on building a "national platform" that could directly reach thousands of ordinary Americans, Ford paid $1,000 for the Independent—a steal. The Independent suited his purposes. "'We intend getting out a paper that will be of interest to the whole family,'" he announced. "'I believe in small beginnings, and for that reason we are taking the small home paper and building on that.'"

The press greeted Ford's incursion onto its territory with a mixture of disdain, sarcasm, and respectful praise. "[A]s a newspaperman Ford is a great manufacturer of flivvers," a Connecticut editorialist commented dismissively. The Detroit Times granted the local hero wider latitude: "If he does as much good with his journal of civilization as he has with his factories, bank, school, farm, and hospital, the world will be better for his 'hunch' that he ought to have a newspaper."

* * *

The culmination of several years' planning and effort, Ford's purchase of the Independent and the press on which to print it was the fruit of a necessary collaboration. Ford rarely undertook any major initiative by himself; rather, he relied on top aides to plumb his desires and execute his instructions. Ford's foray into newspaper publishing was no different. It began with a friendship he struck up with a Detroit reporter around 1914 and built into an enterprise that eventually drew in the most trusted members of his staff.

Edwin G. Pipp was a writer and editor for the Detroit News when he met Henry Ford. Just a few years Ford's junior, Pipp sprang from the same Michigan roots. His birthplace, Brighton, lies only about forty miles northwest of Dearborn. But unlike Ford, Pipp saw a bit more of the world in his early career, gaining experience as a reporter in Kansas City before returning to Detroit and covering local politics for the News. Possessing a "flair for going behind the scenes," he unearthed corruption in the city's Public Works Department and the Detroit United Railway. In sixteen years with the News, Pipp served as a foreign correspondent and managing editor before ascending to editor in chief, where his professional visibility and philanthropic accomplishments brought him to Ford's attention. While at the News, he began "serv[ing] as the manufacturer's informal public relations counselor during much of the period between 1915 and 1918."

The two forged a partnership on shared philanthropic interests. During the war, Ford felt drawn to Pipp and supported his charitable work. Ford was struck by Pipp's thoughtfulness and intellectualism. Pipp saw Ford as an honest, well-intentioned businessman who dreamed of changing the larger world around him and wanted to help him reach that goal. It could have been only the highest flattery when Ford "made a confidant of [him]," granting Pipp exclusives on the company or on Ford himself. "If Henry Ford had something to talk about that he thought was a good story, he would send for Pipp first," a longtime employee remarked. One such scoop was the announcement of the $5-per-day wage. When that wage offer flooded Detroit with more people than Ford could possibly employ, Pipp reported on the suffering of idle workers and their families and called on the public to help. Ford immediately sent word: "[I] will put $50,000 at your disposal if you will look after caring for those people." "It won't take that much," Pipp replied. During the winter of 1914, Pipp and his staff organized assistance "for 497 families and many single men," and they spent less than 10 percent of Ford's budget.

After their joint relief project, Pipp "saw more of Ford than [he] had seen before and admired him more." Even more significant, "[i]t was not long after that that Ford commenced talking to [him] about coming with his organization and starting a paper." In 1916, Ford and Pipp "confidentially discussed two projects, the purchase of a weaker paper ... or the founding of a new daily." Nothing came of that venture at the time. After a spat with higher-ups limited Pipp's authority at the News, he left Detroit for Washington, D.C., where he spent the rest of the war. Ford was occupied with managing his company's war effort and his battles with the Dodge brothers and the Chicago Tribune.

Pipp returned to Detroit at war's end, lured home by his friendship with Ford and by Ford's reignited interest in publishing a newspaper. Just after the peace announcement and Ford's loss in the 1918 Michigan Senate race, "a funny thing happened," William Richards recounted. "An old chap came to [Ford's] office and wanted to sell a Dearborn newspaper." After years of fruitless searching, the Independent practically dropped into Ford's lap. Pipp accepted the job of Independent editor on the understanding that "it was to be a paper to bring about a better feeling among the races and nations of the earth ... and I, as its first editor, set about to make it such a paper."

Ford quickly pulled together a crew of newspaper veterans who, under Pipp's supervision, would be responsible for putting the Independent before Ford's audience each week. The most significant hire of all, William J. Cameron, was a News reporter who came to the Independent with Pipp in late 1918. In sixteen years at the News, Cameron had "established himself ... as a facile writer, a columnist of capacity and something of a scholar. His colleagues had nicknamed him the 'walking dictionary.'" The Canadian-born, forty-year-old Cameron was a gifted writer with a tender heart and a tendency to drink. Largely self-taught, Cameron possessed an "evangelical temperament which enabled him to infuse editorials, sermons, radio talks, and brief essays with an inspirational quality."

The former "preacher" belonged to "one of the most curious sects on earth, the British Israelites, who believed themselves descendants of the Lost Tribes, and based an esoteric interpretation of history and eternity on data derived from the Great Pyramid." The British Israelites believed "that after Moses, the Israelites were divided into two groups—'Israel and Judah.' The group of Israel (the Anglo-Saxon race) is blessed. The group of Judah (the Jewish people) is damned.'" He believed in a millennialism that dovetailed with Ford's austere, though generally unchurched, religious conservatism. Upon joining the Independent, Cameron jumped to the top of the staff, reporting directly to Pipp.

What Pipp found so appealing about Cameron's personality and intellect soon drew their boss's attention. Ford developed the habit of dropping by Cameron's office unannounced. The two established a rapport that went well beyond the intimacy Ford extended to almost all his other employees. Under extraordinary pressure during the Tribune lawsuit to explain his public statements, Ford turned to Cameron for what would today be called media training. Cameron astutely recognized the problem:

When I first went out [to work for Ford], the complaint was that Mr. Ford had been misquoted in the papers. That's when they threw the interviewing over to me; that is, I was to be present at the interviews and I found that he had not been misquoted. He had been precisely quoted without understanding what he meant. He spoke in telegrams and epigrams, and they had to be translated. When he would say a thing to a reporter, my major function was to have him explain it, to make it clear.

Soon, it was Cameron who performed the translating and explaining after Ford issued opaque public statements. By then already in his fifties, Ford needed his staff to divine what he meant and communicate that meaning to others for him. Anyone attempting to interview him outside Cameron's presence came away with little material of publishable quality; a reporter for the Toronto Star had to phrase a request for a follow-up in diplomatic terms: "I am still groping around in a haze in most of the things we talked about and I should like very much to talk to you again, for my own education if for nothing else." Most of the time, Cameron's abilities spared Ford such impositions, as David L. Lewis has described: "Cameron ... acquired the ability virtually to read the manufacturer's mind. Often he broke into Ford's conversation with, 'What Mr. Ford means is—' and then proceeded to expound on Ford's views. The manufacturer, as he listened to the flawless presentation of his ideas, would nod pleasantly. Never, so far as his associates knew, did Ford repudiate his aide's comments." Cameron so completely earned Ford's trust that Ford asked him to ghostwrite the Independent's central feature: a column titled "Mr. Ford's Page" that discussed the day's major issues.

The Independent's business manager, like most of the paper's other staffers and writers, came to work for Henry Ford through a connection to Pipp. Fred Black, a native of Michigan and a college graduate, was working in regional paper sales in Detroit during the war when he befriended Pipp's son Gaylord. One day in 1916, the elder Pipp invited the twenty-five-year-old Black to lunch and explained that he was working secretly to acquire a newspaper and printing press for Ford. "[Pipp] said Mr. Ford did not want it known that he was interested, because it would start a lot of rumors," Black recalled. The conversation led Black to believe that he could sell paper to Ford once the sale went through. Instead, Pipp asked Black to conduct a quiet but intense search for a printing press on Ford's behalf. More than two years later, Black found one, and Pipp invited Black to meet Ford the day it was moved to the Independent's offices. As Pipp looked on, Ford surprised both men by making Black an impetuous offer: "Say, we've got to have somebody run the business end of this thing. How would you like to come out and work on it?" Black's duties included managing the business and operations staff of the newspaper. The most important part of his job description was that he reported not to Pipp, the friend who brought him to Ford's notice, but to Ernest G. Liebold, Ford's private secretary who knew everything about Ford's affairs, business and personal.

Ford may have put Black in charge of the paper's business office, but he appointed Liebold as general manager of Dearborn Publishing Company, the corporate owner of the Independent. It was a telling sign to the newspaper veterans that regardless of their professional experience, a Ford insider would always be looking over their shoulders. And Liebold was the Ford insider, closer to him at the time than anyone at the company. That fact, by itself, gave Liebold enormous power across the entire Ford organization. Liebold's proximity to Ford, and Ford's trust in Liebold, built a bond between them that ensured what the Independent's true purpose would be long before the likes of Pipp and Cameron ever came to Dearborn.

Born to a German Lutheran family in Detroit on March 16, 1884, Ernest Gustav Liebold took his education from a local business college and then worked as a bank teller. His swift rise to bank officer caught the attention of James Couzens, Ford Motor Company treasurer and the man closest to Ford during the company's early years. In 1910, after Ford misplaced a $70,000 check—it eventually turned up in a suit pocket—Couzens persuaded Ford to bring Liebold aboard as his personal bookkeeper. Two years later, Couzens picked Liebold to run the D. P. Lapham Bank in Dearborn, which Ford had purchased to serve his employees, and Liebold performed impressively in that capacity. "From the beginning," wrote Nevins and Hill, "he gave complete and expert devotion to his employer—a difficult feat, particularly outside the factory, as the precise wishes of Henry Ford were seldom easy to ascertain."

By the time Ford acquired the Dearborn Independent, Liebold reviewed practically every decision Ford made. Throughout the 1910s, Liebold controlled the press's access to his boss, shaped Ford's publicity, and worked on the Fords' personal financial affairs. He kept their checkbook and held their power of attorney. "His main job was to keep in step with Mr. Ford," a newspaper observed upon his death in 1956. "That he did well—even to the point of incurring the dislike of others." According to Albert Lee, David Lewis, and Anne Jardim, Liebold determined whom Ford would see and sat in on any meeting whose outcome he wanted to control. He didn't care whom he alienated, and reporters put off by his brusque manner and thwarted by his ironclad gatekeeping retaliated by doing what they could to embarrass him publicly. Insiders recognized Liebold's loyalty and understood him to be acting on Ford's instructions, particularly when he discharged high-level managers and executives. Fred Black later recounted Liebold's advice on how to move up within the company: "You [need to] be in a position where you don't give a goddamn what happens to anybody." Liebold even directed the Ford for President movement in 1923 and 1924, perhaps hoping to be "the power behind the throne in Washington, as he was then in the company."


Excerpted from HENRY FORD'S WAR ON JEWS AND THE LEGAL BATTLE AGAINST HATE SPEECH by VICTORIA SAKER WOESTE Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

Part I Parties and Players

Mr. Ford Surveys the Wreckage 13

1 Ford's Megaphone 19

2 Marshall for the Defense 53

3 Taking It to the Streets 89

4 The Outsider 119

5 The Other War 143

Part II Litigants and Losers

6 The Lawsuit 179

7 Trial and Mistrial 214

8 Apology, Retractions, and Recriminations 261

9 Enforcement Without Law 298

Conclusion 329

List of Abbreviations Used in the Notes 335

Notes 339

Index 397

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