Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech
Victoria Saker Woeste
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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.
"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
"Drawing on new evidence from archives and private family collections, this study details 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."—Law & Social Inquiry
"Victoria Saker Woeste's Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech contributes significantly to our understanding of the dramatic libel lawsuit brought by Aaron Sapiro against the American automotive pioneer. Woeste's meticulously researched book thoughtfully examines the complex circumstances and personalities behind the case, the intricacies of the trial, and the implications of its resolution . . . Woeste's book offers a fascinating and rewarding account of Sapiro v. Ford, and what the case teaches us about hate speech, libel law, and the anti-Jewish crusade of an American icon."—Jessica Cooperman, American Studies
"A major new book by American Bar Foundation scholar Victoria Saker Woeste, Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech provides a startling new interpretation of a watershed episode in the life of Henry Ford. . . never-before discovered evidence. . . new insights."—LegalNews.com
978-0-8047-7234-1 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Ford, Henry, 1863–1947—Trials, litigation, etc. 2. Sapiro, Aaron—Trials, litigation, etc. 3. Trials (Libel)—Michigan—Detroit. 4. Dearborn independent. 5. Anti-Jewish propaganda—United States—History—20th century. 6. Antisemitism—United States— History—20th century. 7. Hate speech—United States—History—20th century. I. Title. kf228.f667w64 2012 346.77403′4—dc23 2011052265 Typeset by Newgen in 10/15 Minion To my parents, and in
and persons that ultimately ran through a former official of the Imperial Russian Government, Boris Brasol-Brazhkovsky. Brasol was living in the United States at the time of the Revolution. The overthrow of the tsar so disgusted him that he resigned his post and remained in exile. After serving as a confidential adviser to U.S. military intelligence during the war, he took a job with the U.S. War Trade Board in 1919, where he made friends with Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and important
discrimination. • • • By the time Ford’s newspaper began attacking Jews, the dangers they faced had become more real than they had been in Marshall’s youth. Everything he had done in his career and all the trappings of his life on Manhattan’s Upper East Side—the comfortable home, the book-lined study, the valuable art collection—might have entitled Marshall to think, on some level, that individuals with native gifts and the ambition to realize their potential could achieve success in America.
style Sapiro had tested in the orphanage and perfected in his law practice became the vehicle that took him to glory. It equipped him poorly, however, to handle the political challenges of organizing and running large groups of people and multimillion-dollar business corporations. Every disagreement became a challenge to his authority and beliefs. To prevail meant proving not just that he was right but that everyone else was wrong. Having risen in life through sheer determination, Sapiro never
cooperation was fine, but Aaron Sapiro, who “perhaps has it coming,” had to be separated from the movement.47 Colorado and Minnesota potato dealers who hated the new cooperative laws poured out their complaints to Ford. They begged him to bankroll litigation in which the U.S. Supreme Court would “no doubt” overturn them. “[W]e supposedly called ‘middlemen’ cannot fight the law as the promoters and their friends would only use it against us. . . . [W]e cash buyers don’t dare oppose any cooperative