Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle against Hate Speech

Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle against Hate Speech

Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle against Hate Speech

Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle against Hate Speech


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.


At the height of the roaring twenties, Aaron Sapiro, a California lawyer leading the burgeoning agricultural cooperation movement, sued Henry Ford and his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, for libel. the Independent had published a series of articles accusing Sapiro of leading a Jewish conspiracy to subvert American agriculture. Tried in Detroit, the million-dollar marquee case culminated in a spectacular mistrial after a series of bizarre events derailed the legal process. At Ford’s behest, another Jewish lawyer, the renowned civil rights leader Louis Marshall, prevented the case from returning to court by penning Ford’s apology to the Jews.

Paradoxically, the apology narrowed the case’s legal significance and relegated it to a footnote in Ford’s life story. This book argues that what was most important about Ford’s apology was not what it said. It is that Ford did not write it. When it was published in July 1927, no one but Ford, his closest advisers, and Marshall knew the truth. Consequently, reactions to Ford’s apology focused on its putative author’s obscure motives rather than its capacity for ending Ford’s career as a purveyor of antisemitic literature or its implications for legal curbs on speech.

Lawsuits are the common coin of conflict in U.S. history. Once in a while, an individual trial commands special attention because it raises issues and concerns that resonate over time and go directly to the heart of how Americans perceive and understand themselves. Sapiro v. Ford is one of those cases. the defendant, of course, is an iconic figure in American history. At stake was nothing less than the fundamental equality of an entire group of citizens, certainly, and something else just as important, though more ephemeral: distinct visions of American social and economic development—and, for Marshall and Sapiro, ensuring that Ford’s vision did not come to pass. That the two lawyers were at odds in that endeavor is the surprising story behind Sapiro v. Ford.

Henry Ford’s War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech transforms our understanding of this famous lawsuit and Ford’s apology by focusing . . .

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