February 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 2
American Heritage Book Selection -- Ford: Expansion and Challenge, 1915-1933
“We’re going to try to get the boys out of the trenches before Christmas,” the confident automaker said. “I’ve chartered a ship, and some of us are going to Europe.” This much-ridiculed attempt to stop the European war in 1916 is given a fresh, impartial evaluation in the second of a definitive series of books on Ford, recently published by Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Excerpted from: Ford: Expansion and Challenge, 1915-1933
Henry Ford’s intensive peace activities really began in November, 1915, when a company car drew up at the Ten Eyck house, his temporary home on the Fair Lane estate, bringing two guests. One was Rosika Schwimmer, Hungarian author and lecturer, a dark, stout, vibrant woman in her late thirties who had served such causes as woman suffrage, birth control, and trade unionism. Her companion, Louis P. Lochner, a slender, blond young American, had recently acted as secretary of the International Federation of Students. Both were now workers for world peace.
From the beginning of the war an advocate of mediation by neutrals, Rosika Schwimmer in April, 1915, had helped persuade the International Congress of Women at The Hague to support such a policy. She assisted Jane Addams and others to gather evidence that both neutrals and belligerents were receptive to mediation. When she came to the United States as a lecturer later in the year, she brought documents that allegedly proved the existence of such an attitude. Madame Schwimmer noted Henry Ford’s declaration in August, 1915, that he was prepared to dedicate his fortune and his life to achieving peace, wrote to him, and through Edwin G. Pipp of the Detroit News eventually procured an interview. She aroused Ford’s interest, and after seeing her documents he remarked: “Well, let’s start. What do you want me to do?”
Lochner arrived in Detroit at this time, also seeking an interview with Ford. He came fresh from a conference which he and David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University and chairman of the Fifth International Peace Congress, had held in Washington with President Woodrow Wilson. Lochner felt that if a greater popular demand for peace could be demonstrated, Wilson might call a conference at Washington, where representatives of neutral nations would appoint a commission to work unremittingly (“continuous mediation”) for a peace acceptable to all belligerents.
After the two had arrived at the Ten Eyck house, Ford left Madame Schwimmer with his wife, Clara, “to talk things over,” and hustled Lochner off to his experimental tractor shop. There he took him aside and demanded: “What do you think of Madame Schwimmer’s proposal? Is it practical? How much will it cost to maintain a neutral commission in Europe?”
Lochner warmly supported the idea of continuous mediation, and also suggested that Ford seek an interview with President Wilson at which he could offer to maintain an official commission abroad until Congress made an appropriation; this failing, he could support an unofficial body which would perform comparable work. Ford listened closely and seemed to approve. When they returned to the Ten Eyck house, they found that Clara Ford had been won over to the cause of “continuous mediation.” Appealing to her as a mother, Madame Schwimmer had proposed that she finance a barrage of telegrams to the White House supporting that policy. These would fortify a personal plea which Schwimmer and Mrs. Philip Snowden of England were to make to Wilson on November 26. Ford approved the estimated expenditure of $10,000. Then Madame Schwimmer left for New York, Ford and Lochner agreeing to follow the next afternoon.
As the two men were borne eastward the following day, Ford was as happy as if he had hatched an idea for a revolutionary new motor car. He bubbled with talk. Lochner noted his keen instinct for publicity. “Whatever we decide to do,” declared the manufacturer, “New York is the place for starting it.” He revealed a gift for epigram, striking off such crisp pronouncements as: “Men sitting around a table, not men dying in a trench, will finally settle the differences.” He watched Lochner closely and, if he detected a favorable response, would say: “Make a note of that; we’ll give that to the boys when we get to New York.”
He established himself at the Biltmore Hotel and on the following day, November 21, lunched with a group at the McAlpin. It included Jane Addams of Hull House, Chicago; Dean George W. Kirchwey of Columbia University; Paul Kellogg of the Survey; and, of course, Lochner and Madame Schwimmer. All approved the plan of sending if possible an official mediating commission to Europe; failing that, a representative private group. Ford and Lochner would go to Washington to seek Wilson’s co-operation, which would invest the project with an official status.
In the talk at table, Lochner half jestingly suggested: “Why not a special ship to take the delegates over?” Ford’s approval flashed like a light to the click of a switch. In vain Jane Addams objected to the plan as flamboyant; Ford liked it for that very reason. Men could see it; it would lift talk into action and arouse a sharper interest. He sent at once for representatives of steamship companies and, posing as “Mr. Henry,” inquired what it would cost to charter a vessel. The agents stared at him, but when told his identity quickly made their calculations. Having started negotiations, Ford waved them over to Rosika Schwimmer, and by evening she had chartered the Scandinavian-American liner Oscar II
Through Colonel Edward M. House, then in New York, Ford procured an appointment with President Wilson for the following day. Promising a group of reporters that he would see them Wednesday, he and Lochner left for Washington.
The conference with the President began pleasantly. “Mr. Ford slipped unceremoniously into an armchair, and during most of the interview had his left leg hanging over the arm of the chair and swinging back and forth,” Lochner observed.
Ford complimented the President on his appearance; how did he keep so trim? Wilson replied that he tried to forget business after business hours and to enjoy a good joke. “Some of them Ford jokes, I hope?” suggested Lochner. Ford then told one such story he had invented himself.
One day, he said, driving by a cemetery, he had noticed a huge hole being dug by a gravedigger and asked him if he were going to bury a whole family in one grave. The man replied No, that the grave was for one person. Then why was it so enormous? The gravedigger explained that the deceased was a queer fellow and had stipulated in his will that he must be buried in his Ford, because the Ford had pulled him out of every hole thus far, and he was sure it would pull him out of this one.
Wilson chuckled and capped it with a limerick. Then Ford explained his mission. He urged Wilson to appoint a neutral commission, offering to finance it. The President replied that he did not feel able to take such a step. He approved the idea of continuing mediation, but a better plan might be offered. He could not be tied to any one project; he must be free.
This was too equivocal for Ford. He said that he had chartered a steamship and had promised the press an announcement on the following morning. He offered the ship to the President. “If you feel you can’t act, I will.” Wilson was startled but stood by his first statement, and Ford and Lochner soon found themselves on the White House grounds. Ford shook his head, but if his companion feared for the fate of the expedition, he was quickly reassured. Ford was only regretful that the President had missed a great opportunity. “He’s a small man,” he said.
Even before the appointed hour of ten on Wednesday the twenty-fourth, reporters began to arrive at the Biltmore. With Lochner and Oswald Garrison Villard, whom he had expressly asked to be present (the New York Times reported Jane Addams and Ida M. Tarbell also there), Ford chatted with the newsmen until forty had gathered, a number which somewhat abashed him. He began rather haltingly: “A man should always try to do the greatest good to the greatest number, shouldn’t he?” He went on: “We’re going to try to get the boys out of the trenches before Christmas. I’ve chartered a ship, and some of us are going to Europe.”
Lochner and Villard supplied details. Asked about the ship and its voyage, Ford stated that he would assemble a group “of the biggest and most influential peace advocates in the country, who can get away, on this ship.” He would also have “the longest gun in the world—the Marconi.” Jane Addams, John Wanamaker, and Thomas A. Edison would sail with him.
The interview was page one news for New York papers and, in consequence, for most others. But from the beginning a vein of satire was apparent:
GREAT WAR ENDS
FORD TO STOP IT
announced the Tribune. The World, Times, and Evening Post were more factual. Only a flicker of humor lit the news accounts. For two days there were no editorials.
When they came, satire was more pronounced, often veering toward invective. American opinion, molded by the Lusitania and other submarine sinkings and by skilled Allied propaganda, was increasingly anti-German. Also, men tended to believe that only a clear Allied victory could insure a satisfactory peace.
The general chorus was condemnatory. The World
, usually friendly to Ford, called the peace ship an “impossible effort to establish an inopportune peace.” The New York Herald termed it “one of the cruellest jokes of the century.” The Hartford Courant remarked that “Henry Ford’s latest performance is getting abundant criticism and seems entitled to all it gets.”
Along with such cutting comment by editors ran a leitmotiv of raillery in news reports, letters, and verse. John O’Keefe dashed off “The Flivvership,” which the World printed on the same day and page as its editorial. One verse ran:
Go chugging out to sea,
And for a flag
Marked 70 h.p.
And all the folk aboardship
Cried “Hail to Hennery!”
It is only just to note certain factors bearing on the peace ship which were ignored by most commentators at the time and have never been given the attention they deserve. Particularly should Ford’s pacifism and his project be considered in relation to the peace movement of his day.
While his aversion to war flared out intensely in 1915, we have no direct evidence as to how it had developed. A year later one writer asserted that it had been implanted from childhood by his mother, Mary Litogot Ford. Her personal experiences in the Civil War, including her son’s birth during it, were represented as so affecting her that “she gave to Henry Ford an inherited aversion to war.”
This statement is more than plausible. It is also possible that both Mary Ford and her son were influenced by Mary’s adopted father, Patrick O’Hern, who deserted from the British Army in Canada and presumably had no love for things military. Furthermore, an aversion to war may have marked the Ford side of the family. Of a dozen Fords of military age in the Dearborn area in 1861, including Henry’s father, William, not one volunteered to serve the Union.
Actually, Ford grew up in an era marked by an increasing devotion to peace. When he was beginning his experiments with the automobile in the 1890s the few faltering peace societies of the early nineteenth century had become many, strong, and influential. The cause of international arbitration, receiving its first great impetus from the successful work of the Geneva Tribunal in settling Anglo-American differences in 1871, and supported by Quakers, Manchester Liberals, and international business interests, had enlisted many authors and editors. When in 1899 Czar Nicholas II called a conference at The Hague to codify the laws of war and establish a Court of International Arbitration, the event seemed to confirm the value of their work, as did a second conference in 1904.
Even before the first Hague conference Alfred Nobel of Sweden had established a Peace Prize of 150,000 kroner for “the man or woman who, during the year, has contributed most … to the cause of peace.” Ideas of the humanization and prevention of war continued to grow. A brilliant Englishman, Norman Angell, attacked motivations for war in The Great Illusion (1908), arguing that the victor as well as the vanquished lost by it. In the United States the American School Peace League (1907) fostered peace sentiment in the public schools, peace societies multiplied, and peace magazines flourished. Theodore Roosevelt had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1904 for helping to end the Russo-Japanese War, and two institutions had been founded in 1910 to combat war: Edwin Ginn’s World Peace Foundation and Andrew Carnegie’s Endowment for International Peace.
Pacifism in the United States on the eve of World War I was thus not only respectable but little short of triumphant. An atmosphere of faith in the goodness of mankind hung over the country like a spell of golden weather. The Hague conferences, the adjudication of fourteen disputes by the International Court of Arbitration, the signing of arbitration treaties—such events seemed milestones leading to a glorious goal. Young intellectuals earnestly discussed the probable span of time—ten, twenty-five, or fifty years—before war would become extinct.
These talks did not live by the ideal of peace alone. New winds of thought and aspiration from other sources were then blowing across the United States and the world. The ideas of Theodore Roosevelt on social justice and Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom fortified all believers in a nobler world. Henry Ford had not read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, or John Spargo’s The Bitter Cry of the Children, but he knew that the protest against human exploitation was gaining volume. He knew something of what Tom L. Johnson of Cleveland, Ben Lindsey of Denver, and Jane Addams stood for, and he moved among men and women who carried the dream of a more just, serene, and joyful world through their hours of work and leisure. Great hopes were in the air; a new age was being born when the war of 1914 lurched across it like an artillery caisson over a bed of flowers.
If the war shattered the mood of the time, it also aroused fierce resentment and intensified bruised hopes. Pacifists proclaimed the conflict to be merely a frightful demonstration of the rightness of all they had said. Peace societies were more aggressive than ever. In verse and prose American writers lifted voices of protest. An immense section of the public was receptive toward any step likely to hasten the end of the slaughter. Ford himself, who had hitherto been silent but like others had now stepped forth to testify, spoke in the spirit of the time. His was no wild, perverse crusade; he was marching along the same road that Hay, Root, Taft, Bryan, and others had traveled, and millions in spirit marched with him.
He had already won an important objective: he had aroused the widest possible attention. Could the venture, even if born in ridicule, be so managed as to impress the watching world? One element was time: time for effective organization, time for eminent individuals to adjust their affairs to the voyage. It would have been wiser to postpone a public announcement until a number of distinguished guests had been pledged. But the announcement having been made when it was, Ford could still have associated the project with the new year rather than with Christmas, gaining a month or more. He and his associates could then have planned the cruise more carefully, enhanced the chances of success, and safeguarded the dignity of the enterprise. Instead, announcing December 4 as the date of sailing, he left only nine days for assembling guests and planning the expedition. This was stacking the cards against his project from the start.
Why did Ford set himself this all but insuperable challenge? The answer lay in his own character. He had never followed conventional paths and delighted in the seemingly impossible. Doubtless he felt that he and his associates could rise to the emergency, and that the sensation would be the greater. Again, he craved action. For half a year he had been writing and talking against preparedness and war and had built up a reservoir of explosive energy. Moreover, something could be said for speed. It might accomplish more than a deliberate procedure with its delayed impact. As to the dignity of the expedition, had anyone mentioned it, Ford would have responded with a snort.
At Ford’s suite in the Biltmore, headquarters for the enterprise, Gaston Plantiff, manager of the New York branch of the Ford company, began to plan the administration of the cruise and soon staffed it with dozens of workers. Ford and Rosika Schwimmer began to send out invitations.
Characteristically, Ford himself did not help organize the crusade. Schwimmer and Lochner were at hand. Schwimmer regarded the crusade as a project of her own to which Ford had attached himself, and she was eager to manage it. Tacitly he let her do this (apart from matters in Plantiff’s hands), shunting Lochner into the post of her general assistant. In leaving chief authority to Madame Schwimmer, Ford made a serious error. She was an enemy alien, a fact which many Americans and other neutrals never forgot. Intelligent enough to perceive the delicacy of her status, she made a pretense of keeping in the background. This proved impracticable because of her striking appearance and aggressive manner.
Work began at once with the invitations to prospective guests. Within a day of Ford’s first announcement both Edison and John Wanamaker denied that they would go. Jane Addams, however, still planned to sail. Ford appealed to John Burroughs, Luther Burbank, William Howard Taft, Bryan, David Starr Jordan, and other distinguished Americans. The full list numbered 115.
The work was scarcely begun when Schwimmer, Ford, and Lochner went to Washington for the interview which Mrs. Philip Snowden and Schwimmer had obtained with Wilson on November 26. At a preliminary mass meeting in the Belasco Theatre, Ford sat on the platform while the two women addressed the audience. Finally there were calls: “We want Ford!” He was terrified and whispered to Lochner, “You say it for me.” Lochner urged: “Just say a few words!” At length Ford rose, cried, “Out of the trenches by Christmas, never to return!” and darted off the stage as if the applause were a pursuing monster.
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.”
At the Hoboken dock, despite a raw, cold day, a crowd estimated at 15,000 had gathered for the sailing. People filled the pier, with more constantly arriving. The Fords appeared, greeted by resounding cheers. Soon afterward, Bryan approached the ship. The band struck up “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier,” the crowd roared, and the commoner made “many sweeping bows” as he went smiling up the gangplank. On board, he acted as a witness at the marriage of the poet Berton Braley and Miss Marian Rubicam. The reporters reveled in the episode as fully in the spirit of the cruise and were almost as enthusiastic about two caged squirrels, dispatched to Ford on the ship by some prankster to live happily among the “nuts.” (One was later christened “William Jennings Bryan” and the other “Henry Ford” by the reporters.)
The Fords chatted with the Edisons and other friends. According to William C. Bullitt of the Philadelphia Ledger, Ford urged Edison: “You must stay on board, you must stay on board.” Then, with a quizzical smile but (thought Bullitt) “intense seriousness,” he said: “I’ll give you a million dollars if you’ll come.” Because of his deafness Edison couldn’t hear; Ford repeated the offer but the inventor smiled and shook his head. However, he assured his friend that he was heart and soul with him. Later Edison and his wife left with Edsel and Clara Ford, down whose cheeks tears were streaming. Dean Marquis, as he had promised Mrs. Ford, had taken passage with her husband. The Fords and Edisons stood on the pier until the ship left.
As it did so, in a final touch of the mad circus atmosphere of the occasion, a figure leaped from the pier and swam stoutly after it. Rescued, he announced himself as “Mr. Zero” and explained that he was “swimming to reach public opinion.” Meanwhile the crowd, oblivious to most of these decorative incidents, warmed to the departure. It stood waving and roaring: it “cheered and yelled until it had no voice left.” According to Lochner, Ford was exalted. “Again and again he bowed, his face wreathed in smiles that gave it a beatific expression. The magnitude of the demonstration—many a strong man there was who struggled in vain against tears born of deep emotion—quite astonished and overwhelmed him. I felt then that he considered himself amply repaid for all the ridicule heaped upon him.”
As the Oscar II slipped out of New York harbor in the fading light and pointed her nose northeast, she was perhaps the first physical missile ever launched against a war. Nobody was sure what effect she would have. Dozens of reporters described the vessel’s progress in day-to-day stories; later it provoked magazine articles, chapters in books, and at least one complete volume. Significantly, its ideological character dominated all these accounts. It was not a ship, but the peace ship. Actual details about vessel and mission are hard to come by, for it was the pilgrims and their quest that fascinated every observer.
The group was a strange one—not, as Mary Alden Hopkins tried to persuade herself, “representative: a cross-section of America.” Almost half the delegates were writers (many suffragists, socialists, single-taxers, or pacifists); the next largest segment comprised lecturers and workers for causes; there were a few government officials, ministers, teachers. No business men, farmers, industrialists (except Ford), scientists, engineers, or labor officials were included. While a few delegates like S.S. McClure and Governor Hanna were “practical,” the great majority were social evangelists of some kind. The reporters, who never gave the finer personalities the respect they deserved, probably pronounced the careless American’s appraisal in terming the shipload “a bunch of nuts.”
Naturally, the center of interest for both delegates and journalists was Henry Ford, for all hoped that on shipboard he could be studied at leisure. Ford was cooperative. When a wave drenched him one morning as he was briskly walking the deck and he caught cold, he was of course no longer available. But the reporters, skeptical at first, by that time had been converted. Ford’s complete sincerity, his friendliness, his pithy, quotable comments, won them all. Bullitt says they were convinced that the manufacturer was “an absolutely unselfish egoist.” “Ford is really Christlike,” Bullitt recorded. He liked the realism with which Ford appraised the voyage.
“Don’t you feel that this is a holy cause?” a minister asked him.
“No,” Ford replied. “I don’t know what you mean by holy. Instead of a holy cause I consider this expedition a people’s affair.”
“Are you not sailing with faith?” persisted the other.
“Yes,” agreed Ford, “but it is faith in the people. I have absolute confidence in the better side of human nature … People never disappoint you if you trust them. Only three out of six hundred convicts in my factory have failed to make good.”
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.”
With more justification, the delegates resented the persistent levity and ridicule which marked many reporters’ dispatches, and the downright falsehoods occasionally perpetrated. “The expedition has been hampered at every step by the direct and indirect influence of the American press, by the Atlantic seaboard press,” declared one of the party who returned to write about it while its work was still going forward. Lochner in his book fully agreed. He tells how Captain J.W. Hempel of the Oscar II, who read everything sent out by wireless from his ship, brought some of the more obnoxious dispatches to Ford, asking if they should be sent. Ford replied, “Let them send anything they please. They are my guests. I wouldn’t for the world censor them.” Later he insisted: “Our work will speak for itself.” Some reporters repaid this courtesy by forcing their way into Ford’s stateroom during his illness to see if he were actually alive!
The ship approached the British Isles by the northern route above Scotland on its way to Norway. As Ford, exhausted and suffering from his cold, kept to his cabin, the position of Madame Schwimmer became somewhat clearer to the correspondents, but also a matter for suspicion. Was she tampering with their dispatches? What was in her little black bag? Schwimmer finally agreed to show them, then became angry at some disparaging comment, and called the exhibit off. Again, she accepted an invitation to tea, only to become incensed at some new report and to send word that she refused to meet with persons who had insulted her. The journalists remonstrated: they had done nothing of the sort, wanted to be friends, and she should come. She did, to be greeted by hearty applause as she entered the room. “Don’t be hypocritical!” she snapped, effectively quashing any good will. She completed the job by accusing the reporters of telling Ford that she listened at keyholes!
The delegates looked forward to their landing in Norway, where Schwimmer promised them a rousing reception. Doubtless many, like Mary Alden Hopkins, were stirred by soaring hopes:
“One hundred and fifty everyday people have been brought face to face with a great idea—the thought of world disarmament. There’s no escaping it, short of jumping into the sea. The idea pervades the ship. Groups talk of it. … Reporters are nervous lest there’s no news value in it. … At times the vision comes to all of us—mystic, veiled, and wonderful. Then common sense revolts. Yet we dare not treat the vision with contempt. A ship of fools crossed the Atlantic in 1492. A ship of fools reached Plymouth in 1620. Can it be that in this ship of common fools, we bear the Holy Grail to the helping of a wounded world?”
Norway appeared, rocky, snowbound, forested. As they ran along the coast the delegates stood on the deck, and “for a while there was sublime peace, even on the peace ship.” Now the time had passed for aspirations alone; henceforth salvation must be won by works as well as by faith.
It was 4 A.M. on December 18, with the temperature twelve degrees below zero, when the ship docked at Oslo. Later that morning a few Norwegians appeared to welcome the expedition, but there was no reception such as Schwimmer had promised. After breakfast, the delegates took an electric train to a city park, where they enjoyed several hours of sun, fresh air, and crisp snow—their first touch of earth for two weeks. That afternoon they attended a reception by the Women’s International Peace League, and in the evening a meeting at the University of Christiania.
The crowd had gathered partly to see Henry Ford and was disappointed; for he, after insisting on walking from the boat to his hotel, had collapsed and gone to bed. He was never to appear in public while in Norway. According to Bullitt, the meeting was unsuccessful in other respects. Jenkin Lloyd Jones, after beginning with a pretentious “Hail, Nor-rrway! Hail, Nor-rrway!” bored the intelligent audience with platitudes, and ensuing speakers showed a similar tendency. Fortunately Lochner, clearly outlining the proposed activities of the pilgrims, pleased the Norwegians.
On December 20 the five newspapers of the capital indicated the attitude of the public. Two favored the expedition, and three frowned upon it (one was later to become friendly). The Tidens Tegn, the most influential, ridiculed the party but praised Ford. “He is a Tolstoi in a modern edition. He has a personality which we shall remember long after the expedition is forgotten.” Unquestionably one unhappy influence upon the Norwegians was the leadership of Rosika Schwimmer. The Norse thought it wholly unfitting for a citizen of a belligerent power to direct the peace mission of a neutral country. Finally, the Norwegians were in general pro-Ally and felt that a just peace could be concluded only after the German military position had worsened.
Ford had made no progress in overcoming his illness. The weather had been cold and the rooms he occupied faced north. According to Lochner, they could be entered only through those of Dean Marquis or Ray Dahlinger. “Mr. Ford was practically incommunicado.” Lochner believed that Marquis, originally opposed to the cruise, had worked steadily on Ford to abandon it and was supported by other Ford employees, both on shipboard and in Detroit. In his weakened state, the manufacturer was of course susceptible to suggestion. Lochner saw the drift of his feeling when he remarked: “Guess I had better go home to mother … You’ve got this thing started now and can get along without me.” Lochner protested that Ford’s presence was imperative. Besides, should he leave at the first stop in Europe, his act would be interpreted as an admission of failure. Why not go to Finse, a Norwegian health resort, recover there, and rejoin the party later?
Ford agreed to consider this possibility, but his decision had probably been made. If we can trust his statements then and later, he never regretted having launched the expedition. But he probably recognized that it had been badly managed, and that riding herd on the fantastic individualists who composed the party was a difficult task. He was as lost among them as Schwimmer would have been on the assembly line at Highland Park. However, his physical condition seems to have been the determining factor.
At any rate, under Marquis’ urging, Ford decided to leave on the morning of December 23 for Bergen, where he could catch the Bergensfjord, just sailing for America. As it happened, the delegates were departing a little later that morning for Sweden. Marquis wanted no trouble about Ford’s departure. He “spirited” his charge out of the hotel, with a “flying wedge” to make sure that there would be no interference. Lochner and others became aware that something was happening and rushed down to find Ford getting into a taxi. They attempted to question him, but Marquis and his group interposed; there were “a lot of fists flying.” Ford and Marquis slipped away in the cab, drove around the delegates’ train to their own, and got away as few realized what had happened.
When Ford’s flight became generally known, the effect was much what Lochner had feared. The party felt depressed—even betrayed. Plantiff indicated that Ford would return. “Before leaving, he expressed to me his absolute faith in the party and … the earnest hope that all would continue to co-operate to the closest degree in bringing about the desired results which had been so close to his heart—the accomplishment of universal peace.”
While this statement reassured the delegates and checked malicious comment, it did not soften the staggering blow of the departure. Of all the party, Ford alone had been of sufficient stature to impress and hearten neutrals. The Christiania Aftenposten of December 20 had praised him but lifted its eyebrows at his companions. Bullitt said bluntly that “so far as making an impression on Europe was concerned, the personality of Henry Ford was the party’s chief asset.” Lochner felt that his going left “a void.” Ford’s absence also affected the day-to-day conduct of the expedition. While he was with it, there was never any trouble about financing. Furthermore, while he was not pre-eminently an executive, his judgment in emergencies was usually sound. But with the ocean between him and the party, financing became precarious, disagreements began to divide those in charge, and uncertainty developed as to Ford’s own wishes. In short, his withdrawal impaired both the prestige and the management of the project.
On returning to New York, apparently with restored health, he denied emphatically that he had “deserted.” Illness had hastened his return, but he had never intended to remain long abroad—in fact, had promised his wife to be back “in about five weeks.” (He had been gone a month.) He asserted: “I don’t regret a single thing I have done. … I believe the sentiment we have aroused by making the people think will shorten the war.” And when a Tribune reporter asked him if he thought the peace ship worth what he had put into it, Ford replied, “I do.” Was the kind of publicity he had received satisfactory? “It suited me all right,” replied Ford with greater shrewdness than the reporter suspected. “I was bothered only because my wife didn’t like some of the criticism. My son, Edsel, didn’t mind, and I am really strong for it.” He hoped the criticism would continue. Why? “Well,” drawled the industrialist, “the best fertilizer in the world is weeds.”
In Europe, the expedition had done well. Following Ford’s instructions, a committee had been set up “for the management of the trip and policies.” It consisted of Jones, Aked, Huebsch, Frederick Holt (Ford’s representative), Judge Lindsey, Mrs. Lloyd, Mrs. Fels, and Plantiff, with Lochner as secretary. For a time it worked effectively. What was better, the reception in Sweden was as cordial as that in Norway had been cool. Despite the fact that Christmas holidays were under way, with shops closed and other activities suspended, the residents of Stockholm saw that the pilgrims were well-quartered, organized meetings on their behalf, and showed a warm sympathy with their purpose. But Sweden’s fear of Russia made her favorable to a strong Germany and to a peace that would penalize none of the chief combatants.
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!
The conference quickly developed a character and a program. Their first notable act was an appeal in March, 1916, to the neutral powers, urging them to take the initiative in offering mediation. As a result, bills to implement it were introduced in the parliaments of Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and Holland; but no action was taken by any neutral government.
A month and a half later the conference issued an Appeal to the Governments, Parliaments and Peoples of Belligerent Nations. This document not only again stated the case against continuing the war, but also offered a set of principles which might form the basis for peace. These included the right of self-determination by peoples, guarantees of economic freedom (to make wars for commercial advantage pointless), freedom of the seas, parliamentary control of foreign policy, an international organization to promote co-operation between nations and peaceful settlement for all disputes, and a program of world disarmament. A world congress was to deal with these questions.
After this appeal, on instructions from Dearborn, the five delegates per nation were reduced to two, and the site of sessions was transferred to The Hague. The conference stimulated pro-mediation gatherings, encouraged appeals for peace by eminent writers like Georg Brandes, and indirectly stimulated others like Ellen Key, Selma Lagerlöf, and Arne Carbourg to serve the same end. Representatives of the group communicated with prominent citizens of belligerent countries, suggested that the German government endorse the idea of a league of nations (which it soon did), and planned an international magazine devoted to peace.
Ford meanwhile had vigorously pursued his opposition to war and preparedness through large advertisements in various American newspapers. Apparently he was pleased with the work of the conference in Europe. In October, when Lochner visited the United States, Ford was cordial, but wanted a shift to direct mediatory efforts—contacts with belligerent nationals, attempts to find a common ground for action, and so forth. Lochner was heartened. He felt that all the belligerents were showing a desire to negotiate and that overtures toward action would soon be made, either through the conference or through President Wilson.
An overture soon came, but not in a form that Lochner welcomed. Emperor Wilhelm of Germany announced his willingness to negotiate, but in so arrogant a fashion as to antagonize the Allied governments and peoples. Wilson, who had been about to act, was embarrassed by the imperial gesture. However, apparently eager to be heard before a reply could be made to the Kaiser by others, the President on December 18, 1916, sent to all belligerents notes identical in text suggesting that each declare the terms on which it would consider peace. The Germans promptly expressed a willingness to confer; the Allies rejected the suggestion. Thus two peace tenders (the German and the American) had been made, and their failure had the logical effect of stimulating German activity, including the more intensive use of submarines. This really wrote finis to the activities of the commission (as the conference had become), although as yet no one perceived the fact.
Lochner, still hopeful of peace, was recalled to the United States on January 3, 1917; he saw President Wilson twice and Henry Ford oftener. Wilson made his famous “peace without victory” speech. Ford felt that with this utterance the government had taken over his crusade. As submarine activity assumed a more ruthless character, he also saw the possibility of our being drawn into the war; but apparently his dominant feeling was that Wilson was doing all for peace that he could and more than anyone else could do. On February 7 Lochner was told that the work in Europe would stop.
Thus the peace crusade ended. Having made his decision, Ford could not detach himself from the project too quickly. With his approval, Liebold took over the termination of the work at The Hague, brushing aside Lochner’s protest that an abrupt suspension of activities would work hardship upon some of the commission’s foreign members and ignoring other suggestions. The drive for peace had lasted fourteen months; what had Ford accomplished in that period?
Opinion on that question varies almost absurdly. Mark Sullivan in Our Times declared bitingly of the project: “After its failure, dying down to an echo of gigantic and exhausted laughter, it deprived every other peace movement in the country of force and conviction.” Although Sullivan in a footnote reported Jane Addams’ vigorous dissent and admitted that the peace movement retained force despite the peace ship, his judgment has been endorsed by some responsible journalists, including Elmer Davis, who reported the cruise, and even historians.
But others have differed sharply. Walter Millis, in his Road to War, deplored the fact that “the Peace Ship was launched, to the undying shame of American journalism, upon one vast wave of ridicule.” Upton Sinclair praised the crusade, while there was scarcely a pilgrim, from Schwimmer to B.W. Huebsch, who did not believe that it justified itself. Those who ridiculed the project had indeed little to support their ridicule, while those who defended it could point to the worldwide dramatization of the peace hope through the cruise and to a definite effect on public opinion in Europe through the activities of the conference. And although the crusade failed, it had held aloft before the world the ever-desirable alternative to war. A large body of Americans respected Ford’s idealism, and in less than two years after the conference closed, the industrialist showed amazing strength as a senatorial candidate and was persistently talked of for President.
Ford perceived other practical gains. Although he did not charter the peace ship to make himself or his car better known, the cruise publicized both. When Liebold told him that the total costs were $465,000, he remarked: “Well, we got a million dollars worth of advertising out of it, and a hell of a lot of experience.”
Was Ford humbled in spirit by the ridicule he encountered—under which he undoubtedly smarted despite his smiling denials? No evidence supports such a possibility. Later on he pointed out that in a time when no bold effort to end the war was being made, he had acted. “I wanted to see peace. I at least tried to bring it about. Most men did not even try.”