- Historic Sites
Henry Ford And His Peace Ship
American Heritage Book Selection -- Ford: Expansion and Challenge, 1915-1933
February 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 2
Ford left that evening for Detroit. Despite his absence, despite haste and confusion, the expedition gained recruits. Within three days thirteen guests had accepted, among them the Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones, widely known throughout the Middle West, and the Reverend Charles F. Aked of San Francisco, formerly pastor of John D. Rockefeller’s Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in New York. Various eminent individuals and minority groups approved the venture, but many American leaders attacked it. Alton B. Parker, Democratic candidate for President in 1904, called Ford “a clown strutting on the stage for a little time,” and Theodore Roosevelt, remarking that he rarely found himself agreeing with Parker, declared that “Mr. Ford’s visit abroad will not be mischievous only because it is ridiculous.” President John Grier Hibben of Princeton University refused to send a student; Dr. Charles W. Eliot of Harvard said that the mission must fail because it was wrong. The Detroit Saturday Night proclaimed Ford’s voyage “a humiliation to his city and his country.”
Refusals from distinguished men and women poured in: William Dean Howells, Colonel E. M. House, Cardinal Gibbons, William Howard Taft, Louis Brandeis, Morris Hillquit, and others. However, many in declining sent heartening messages. “I cannot too highly commend you,” telegraphed Governor Hiram Johnson from California; Ida M. Tarbell disagreed only with the means of seeking peace, not the end. The poet Vachel Lindsay wired: “I am in full sympathy with your expedition.” Luther Burbank declared: “My heart is with you,” and Helen Keller, declining because of speaking engagements, announced that she was with Ford “heart and soul.” Acceptances grew: S.S. McClure, noted magazine publisher, at this time editor of the New York Evening Mail ; Governor Louis B. Hanna of North Dakota; Inez Milholland Boissevain, Junoesque beauty and feminist. Elmer Davis, then little known, was among the reporters.
On December 1 came word that Jane Addams, suddenly taken ill, could not make the voyage. She might have to undergo an operation. “It is even doubtful if she can follow later,” reported her associate Dr. Alice Hamilton. The loss to the expedition was a bitter one, for Miss Addams might have contributed a stability which the leadership of the crusade sadly lacked.
For a time it seemed that William Jennings Bryan would become a delegate. He arrived in New York on December 2, just after Ford returned from Detroit with Marquis, Clara Ford, and Edsel. The two were already acquainted; earlier in the year Bryan, then secretary of state, had sent Ford a paperweight made from the steel of plowshares. (He had presented such souvenirs to foreign diplomats on the signing of arbitration treaties.) Bryan waited patiently for five hours to see Ford, the two men all but embraced, and Bryan gave out a statement approving the expedition and proposing to join it at The Hague.
Despite the loss of Bryan and Miss Addams, by the eve of sailing the group of delegates was as large and distinguished as Ford and his associates had a right to expect on nine days’ notice. No first-rank American leaders like Taft, Edison, or Bryan had joined the party, but McClure, Aked, Judge Ben Lindsey of Denver, and others were nationally known. That so large a group, many of intelligence and reputation, would leave their work for a long trip on scant notice, often making financial sacrifices, was a tribute both to Ford and to the appeal of the undertaking.
Meanwhile, in Detroit a determined effort had been made by Dean Marquis and Clara Ford to dissuade the manufacturer from boarding the Oscar II. Marquis from the start had distrusted Schwimmer and Lochner; as refusals multiplied he was convinced that the peace ship delegates would not properly represent America. Mrs. Ford opposed the voyage on more personal grounds. She made Marquis promise that if, despite their efforts, Ford insisted on going, he would accompany and protect him. Failing in Detroit, they came to New York still hopeful, and “sat up all night” with Ford on the eve of the voyage, expostulating, arguing, cajoling. With Marquis’ resourceful eloquence and Clara’s tears, it was a powerful attack. The very fate of the voyage hung in the balance, for without Ford the ship would have lacked its most powerful symbol and moral force. But he withstood the assault.
The day of sailing was as busy as any preceding it. At the Biltmore, Ford faced a group of reporters. Had he a last word for the public?
“Yes. Tell the people to cry peace and fight preparedness.”
“What if the expedition fails?”
“I’ll start another.”
As he left the hotel in a Model T touring car for Hoboken, where the Oscar II rode, with Clara, Edsel, and the sculptor C.S. Pietro, he announced: “We’ve got peace-talk going now, and I’ll pound it to the end.”