Henry Ford And His Peace Ship


Ford stated frankly what he expected from the expedition. It was not to bring peace immediately, but to hasten it. “The chief effect I look for is psychological.” The peace ship was an advertisement for peace. “I consider that the peace ship will have been worth while if it does nothing more than it has done already in driving preparedness off the front page of the newspapers and putting peace on the front page.”

On the third night out Ford sent an exhortation to members of Congress by wireless, urging them “to give the peace mission your support and encouragement so that it may succeed at the earliest possible moment.” The following day he radioed messages to a number of rulers, pleading for peace. “Enough blood has been shed, enough agony endured, enough destruction wrought.” He begged them to declare a truce and by “mediation and discussion” to settle what was not being settled by the guns. These bulletins made good copy for the reporters. Ford had unlimbered his “longest gun in the world,” and the peace ship seemed not altogether futile.

On December 9 occurred the most sensational event of the voyage. Two nights before, McClure had read President Wilson’s message to Congress. It was a plea for preparedness, advocating an increase in the standing army. A committee of delegates had been appointed to draft resolutions on the message, to be signed and sent to Congress. On the ninth, after Lochner had made a plea for immediate disarmament, Dr. Aked rose and read the Declaration of Principles of the Ford Peace Party, the work of the committee. Deprecating military preparedness, it pledged all delegates to work for international disarmament. The declaration was to be left four or five days for “examination and signing,” the assumption being that all delegates would sign. But a number, although eager to see the war ended, did not favor critical comment upon their President or Congress. Said McClure:

“For years I have been working for international disarmament. I have visited the capitals of Europe time and time again in its behalf. But I cannot impugn the course laid out by the President of the United States and supported by my newspaper. I should like to be able to go on working with the party, but I am unable to sign that part of its declaration of principles which would place me in opposition to my Government.”

Judge Lindsey took essentially the same stand, with Governor Hanna, the journalist John D. Barry, Herman Bernstein, and others. Madame Schwimmer and Jenkin Lloyd Jones, according to Bullitt, accused McClure of corrupting the students of the party by talking preparedness to them, while Lochner exclaimed: “Any one who accepted the invitation of Mr. Ford, and now refuses to sign this resolution, came for a free ride!” This comment was resented. Barry protested bitterly: “If you push through this resolution and cause a sharp split in the party, we shall be the laughingstock of the whole of Europe.”

The conflict should have been foreseen before the voyage began. Ford, it is true, was as fervidly against preparedness as war. But the success of the expedition was his objective. To win it he was seeking the cooperation of all neutral nations and was heartened by Madame Schwimmer’s documents indicating that even the belligerents were receptive to peace talks. He was pledged to seek their aid. How then could he logically object to peace-lovers who believed in a measure of preparedness? But the policy of the expedition had never been thought through, and such extremists as Jones, Schwimmer, Lochner, and Aked stood ready to demand that everyone approve the declaration or leave the party at the first possible port. “Pacifist,” remarked Bullitt, “means a person hard to pacify.”

In the end, a statement signed by Ford, while stressing the point that to work for peace and even tacitly condone preparedness was impossible (a wholly illogical assertion, of course), emphasized that all delegates were welcome in the crusade. But the reporters joyfully advertised the rift in the party. “The dove of peace has taken flight,” cried the Chicago Tribune, “chased off by the screaming eagle.” The press throughout the world carried accounts of the quarrel. “Thank heaven,” newsmen were quoted as saying, “at last a story has broken!” Later the journalists were accused of having magnified the dispute. “The amount of wrangling has been picturesquely exaggerated,” wrote Mary Alden Hopkins on her return to New York. “A man does not become a saint by stepping on a peace boat.”