Henry Ford And His Peace Ship

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Denmark was cordial, but unofficially. A recent law forbade addresses by foreigners on the war, and only at “private” meetings of clubs or societies could the delegates present their case. Meanwhile, the problem of getting to Holland loomed up as formidable. A journey by water meant the hazard of mines, while land access was possible only through German territory. Finally, by the unofficial action of the American minister to Denmark, the Germans permitted the entire party to cross their country in a sealed train, and the greater part of the group thus arrived at The Hague. (Aked and Hanna were ill, Canadian-born Julia Wales and the Finnish Mrs. Malmberg were left behind as citizens of belligerent countries; McClure had quitted the expedition.) The Dutch were not wholly enthusiastic about the party, for they had a peace society of their own which had worked along less sensational lines and plainly felt that Ford and his associates were muddying the waters.

After the first golden days in Stockholm, the party had manifested its old disunity. When the personnel of the administrative committee had been announced, Inez Milholland Boissevain had wrathfully protested against undemocratic procedures, and withdrew. Plantiff felt that she was piqued at not having been put on the committee. He had his difficulties running the business end of the enterprise, and was worried about the bickering. He concluded that Schwimmer, who ignored the committee and assumed full authority when it pleased her, was “a woman of a strange and suspicious personality.” Some delegates supported her, but she was antagonizing a growing number—particularly Aked, Mrs. Fels, and Barry. “Her presence prejudices every city, her spirit and methods stir up bad blood,” Aked was soon to write. The Dutch took the trouble to protest directly to Henry Ford against her.

Having brought the pilgrims through the three Scandinavian countries to Holland, the full circuit of accessible neutral territory, those in charge had now only to choose five delegates to represent the United States on the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation and select the site for conference meetings. Jane Addams and William Jennings Bryan were supposedly willing to act as delegates, and there was no question of their being chosen, along with Henry Ford. Plantiff had already arranged with Aked to serve. Mrs. FeIs made the fifth representative. As alternates Judge Lindsey, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Dr. George W. Kirchwey, Emily Greene Balch, and John D. Barry were designated. Of these Americans only Aked from the regular group and Miss Balch from the alternates served for any extended period. Stockholm was selected as the seat of the conference.

The peace party had now completed its task. Plantiff arranged that the students should return to the United States on the Noordam (January 11, 1916), the delegates on the Rotterdam (January 15). Both groups came back with a variety of attitudes, all praising the purpose of the expedition, but many deploring mistakes in management. The gist of their comment was expressed by (state) Senator Helen Ring Robinson of Denver: “The leaders did not measure up to the bigness of the idea.” The reporters took a more satirical view. “The comedy of errors is over,” proclaimed T.N. Pockman of the Tribune. “During its two months’ run the show has aroused more lively interest, cynical amusement and sheer pity than possibly any other in history.”

Oddly enough, the return of the pilgrims seemed to be accepted generally as the collapse of Ford’s project, although actually it marked the beginning of the real work. This was the task of continuous mediation. One delegate, Florence L. Lattimore, pointed out this fact, adding that “if you have any regard for facts you cannot say that it [the expedition] failed any more than you can as yet say that it was a success.” Actually, the conference which developed from the cruise was to labor for a solid year, seeking to halt the war.

The organization of this body was a minor triumph. Hardly had the Oscar II docked at Christiania when it was prophesied that Norway would never furnish delegates, while later it was said with equal assurance that no eminent Dutch or Swiss would be available for service. Yet, largely through Lochner’s efforts, representatives from six countries, including the United States, were chosen, and by late February, 1916, the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation was ready to begin its work.

Meanwhile the feeling against Rosika Schwimmer had continued to grow, the Ford representatives acted to curtail her power, and she finally cabled her resignation. Lochner later discussed her place in the enterprise. She had prodigious capacity for work, “eloquence, wit, savoir-faire , forcefulness … a genuine personal charm,” with an ability to speak English, French, and German fluently. She had enjoyed Ford’s confidence. Why did she fail? Lochner concluded that she did so because she was an autocrat and could not adapt herself to the open, frank personalities of the Americans. They (with the Dutch and Scandinavians) despised intrigue; her instinct was to guard her secret documents and work indirectly for what she wanted. She even stationed an agent outside meetings to be sure that nobody eavesdropped!