July 27, 2011

Henry Ford Libel Lawsuit Against The Chicago Tribune, 1916-1919

[June 22, 1916] -


From the Chicago Tribune.

Inquiry at the Henry Ford offices in Detroit discloses the fact that employes of Ford who are members of or recruits in the National guard will lose their places. No provision will be made for anyone dependent upon them. Their wages will stop, their families may get along in any fashion possible, their positions will be filled, and if they come back safely and apply for their jobs again they will be on the same footing as any other applicants. This is the rule for Ford employes everywhere.

Information was refused as to the number of American soldiers unfortunate enough to have Henry Ford as an employer at this time, but at the Detroit recruiting offices it was said that about 75 men will pay this price for their services to their country.

Mr. Ford thus proves that he does not believe in service to the nation in the fashion a soldier must serve it. If his factory were on the southern and not the northern border we presume he would feel the same way. We do not know precisely what he would do if a Villa band decided that the Ford strong boxes were worth opening and that it would be pleasant to see the Ford factories burn. It is evident that it is possible for a millionaire just south of the Canadian border to be indifferent to what happens just north of the Mexican border.

If Ford allows this rule of his shops to stand he will reveal himself not as merely an ignorant idealist, but as an anarchistic enemy of the nation which protects him in his wealth.

A man so ignorant as Henry Ford may not understand the fundamentals of the government under which he lives. That government is permitted to take Henry Ford himself and command his services as a soldier if necessary. It can compel him to devote himself to national purposes. The reason it did not take the person of Henry Ford years ago and put it in uniform is, first, that it has not had the common sense to make its theoretical universal service practical, and, second, because there have been young men to volunteer for the service which has protected Henry Ford, for which service he now penalizes them.

He takes the men who stand between him and service and punishes them for the service which protects him. The man is so incapable of thought that he cannot see the ignominy of his own performance.

The proper lace for so deluded a human being is a region where no government exists except such as he furnishes, where no protection is afforded except such as he affords, where nothing stands between him and the rules of lie except such defenses as he puts there.

Such a place, we think, might be found anywhere in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. Anywhere in Mexico would be a good location for the Ford factories. [1]


[June 23, 1916] -


Where's Henry Ford? Did the flivver man tell his workmen he'll fire those who go into the state militia? Did he or didn't he? He didn't. The Tribune has FOOLED thousands of its readers. So has the Herald and the Hearst papers.

The United Press sent out a story last yesterday afternoon. It was printed in the last edition of the Journal. Its news facts were available for all the morning papers. Says the United Press in a dispatch from Detroit dated June 22:

"Two hundred employees of the [line obscured by duplicate] answer the call to arms in the Michigan national guard were assured today by factory officials that their jobs will be open for them whenever they return from service. Officials, however, knew nothing of any plan to continue pay to employes during their service or to provide for their families. Mr. Ford today refused to discuss the Mexican situation or to comment in any way regarding the policies of the company toward employes in the militia."

After reading this, newspaper fans might take a slant at a front page brag story from the Tribune this morning under date of June 22 from De Kalb, Ill. It reads:

"Dr. J. M. Postle of De Kalb, after reading this morning the Tribune's article on Henry Ford's attitude, headed "Flivver Patriotism," took his Ford to the blacksmith shop and pounded every trace of the name of Ford off his car."

Is this a joke on Dr. Postle? Or is it a joke on all readers who believe Tribune news stories about "pacifists"?

"Ford is an Anarchise" runs the title of the Tribune editorial today. It is stated that Ford is "not merely an ignorant idealist, but an anarchistic enemy of the nation." He is "incapable of thought" and he "cannot see the ignominy of his own performance." After classifying the famous minimum wage millionaire as "deluded human being," the editorial closes:

"Anywhere in Mexico would be a good location for the Ford factories."

Jim Keeley rambles along in the Herald with one editorial saying:

"We have permitted ourselves to be stuffed with humbug by Henry Ford." Another editorial is titled "A Case for Pity." and says Ford is "a case for pity." It is qualified, however, as follows:

"If this report be true, it is a case for pity."

At the office of General Manager Keith of the Ford Motor co. in Chicago it was said that no instructions have come from the Detroit main office on the handling of employes who leave for militia service.

"We have 850 employes in Chicago," said Keith's secretary. "Of these, none enlisted in the militia has come to our attention so far. Until authorized this office could not state what its policy will be if enlistments in our working force should develop." [2]


[June 27, 1916] -

"WITHOUT PREJUDICE." -- Henry Ford gave out a statement in Detroit on Saturday that all men on his payroll who enlist for army service "will be taken back without prejudice" when their army service is over.

This was the first time Henry Ford had spoken on this point since President Wilson's mobilization order. Yet four Chicago newspapers last week hammered Henry Ford, called him fool and fanatic. The Tribune led with an editorial headed "Henry Ford is an Anarchist." Herald, Post and Journal joined in with denunciation.

Inasmuch as Ford's statement, which was sent out by the Associated Press late Saturday, is the first official word from the Detroit man, it might be expected now that the four newspapers who called him dirty names and kicked at him would now tell their readers they made a wrong guess and acted like bum sports with the Detroit man.

One newspaper, the Daily News, played safe and refused to join in the howl against Ford. The Hearst papers have had nothing one way or another about Ford.

The United Press carried a story the second day of mobilization denying that Ford would fire men who enlist. This was the same day the Tribune had a front-page snicker headed "Flivver Patriotism." [3]


[September 7, 1916] -


Asks $500,000 Personal Damages From Chicago Tribune--Called 'Anarchist' by Paper.

Chicago, Sept. 7. -- Suit for $1,000,000 was filed by Henry Ford, the Detroit manufacturer, against the Chicago Tribune in the United States district court here today. Mr. Ford asks for personal damages as compensation for an editorial printed in the Tribune June 23, which it is alleged called Ford an "anarchist."

Detroit, Mich., Sept. 7. -- It was announced here that Alfred Lucking, personal attorney for Henry Ford, the manufacturer, is in Chicago to file suit for $500,000 in Mr. Ford's name against the Chicago Tribune. Mr. Ford asks personal damages as compensation for an editorial printed in the Tribune, which, it is charged, called Ford an "anarchist."

The editorial was printed more than two months ago. According to the announcement which came from Mr. Lucking's office, the word "anarchist" was used in the headline of the editorial. The editorial itself censured Mr. Ford's ideas and methods.

It was learned that Ford had the suit under contemplation for several weeks. [4]


[October 12, 1916] -


The Tribune yesterday filed a demurrer to the $1,000,000 suit of Henry Ford, millionaire auto maker of Detroit.

The Trib says it didn't libel Ford when it called him an anarchist because he spent money fighting the publicity campaign of the munition ring and steel trust gang to scarce the people into buying armaments.

The Trib printed the story itself today. When the suit was filed the Tribune didn't mention it. Something has changed the minds of the Tribune bosses.

Mr. Ford's name was used very carefully in today's Tribune story. The Trib bosses have changed their mind on that, too. [5]


[May 12, 1919] -


MT. CLEMENS, Mich. May 12. -- Henry Ford's million-dollar libel suit against the Chicago Tribune, which was first brought in 1916, was opened in circuit court here today, Judge J. C. Tucker presiding.

The suit, which is bringing here many prominent witnesses on both sides, was entered when the Tribune, in an editorial, referred to Ford as an anarchist become of Ford's stand on military preparedness. This was during the Mexican trouble.

Action was first started in Federal court at Chicago, but later was deferred and brought into the Michigan court. Both sides have engaged high legal talent to represent them.

Selection of veniremen started today. It is expected to take three weeks for selection of the jury. The trial itself will extend over two months, it is believed. [6]


[August 22, 1919] -


Farmer Jury Which Has Spent Three Months in Court is Out Ten Hours and Then Finds Paper Guilty of Libel. 

Mt. Clemens, Mich.—Henry Ford is not an anarchist!

A jury of 12 farmers have said so by their verdict, in which they found The Chicago Tribune guilty of libel when it attached that stigma to the name of the great manufacturer.

“We find the Chicago Tribune guilty and attach a verdict of six cents.”

The sentence from the foreman of the jury which for three months has listened to the most famous case of its kind in history and which debated more than 10 hours before it arrived at its conclusion, were the lines of the final act in the dramatic event which has attracted the attention of the entire country.

Henry Ford himself was not in the court to share in the triumph.  He was in the New Hampshire woods in his friends, Thomas Edison and John Burroughs.  Judge Alfred J. Murphy of Mr. Ford’s counsel made a formal statement for his principal:

“Ford is Vindicated.”

“The important issue has been determined,” said Judge Murphy.  “Money damages were not sought by Mr. Ford.  He stands not only vindicated but his attitude as an American citizen has been justified after a trial which raised every issue against him that ingenuity and research could invent.”

Outside the courthouse crowds had gathered during the evening hours to await news of the jury which had been closeted in conference since morning.  As the courtroom emptied after the announcement of the verdict and the news of the decision rendered spread, cheer after cheer broke forth and a band, returning from a picnic, stopped to add its brass notes to the din.

There was a tense moment when the jurors filed into their box for the last time.  Their foreman, in a voice shaking with the emotion of the moment, spoke in such a low tone that he could scarcely be heard.  The clerk read back the formal verdict:

“You do say upon your oath that the said defendant The Tribune company, is guilty in the manner and form as the said plaintiff hath in his declaration in this case complained against him and you assess the damages of the said plaintiff on occasion of the promises over and above his costs and charges by him about this suit and in his behalf expended, at the sum of six cents damages.”

The editorial in which The Tribune attacked Henry Ford and branded him as an anarchist was printed in 1916.  The case has been fought through several courts on one point or another ever since, finally arriving through a change of venue asked by The Tribune in Mt. Clemens.

The charge which Judge Tucker made to the jury dealt mainly with the laws of libel and contained among others, the following points: 

“The Tribune claims that they carefully inquired as to what Mr. Ford’s attitude was going to be as to the care of his men who joined the national guard and that they based the editorial characterizing him as an anarchist on that information.  They admit the publication and insist that it was true and therefore justified; and that even if not true it was fair comment upon a matter of public interest, either of which defenses are sufficient if proven true.  The burden, however, is upon the defense when they attempt to make either of the defenses mentioned.  They must establish either the truth of the charge they made, or that it was fair comment within the meaning of that term.

“A newspaper has the same right as an individual to its opinions and convictions—no more and no less.”

The court further informed the jury that if they found that the charge was untrue they must find for the plaintiff.  He declared that there was nothing ambiguous about the editorial.  It called Mr. Ford an anarchist and the only way the defendant could escape being found guilty of libel was to prove that charge.  He said further that the jury must accept the popular conception of the meaning of the term “anarchist.”

Counsel for The Chicago Tribune made no effort to appeal the case and accepted the verdict as it stood. [7]


[1] "Henry Ford is an Anarchist." The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL. June 22, 1916. Reprinted in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Colorado Springs, CO. July 3, 1916. Page 4. Genealogybank.com.

[2] "Is Henry Ford an Anarchist?" The Day Book, Chicago, IL. June 23, 1916. Page 30. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045487/1916-06-23/ed-1/seq-30/

[3] "Without Prejudice." The Day Book, Chicago, IL. June 27, 1916. Pages 23-24. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045487/1916-06-27/ed-1/seq-24/

[4] Excerpt from "Henry Ford to File Libel Suit." The Ogden Standard, Ogden, UT. September 7, 1916. Page 6. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058396/1916-09-07/ed-1/seq-6/

[5] "Is Trib Backing Up?" The Day Book, Chicago, IL. October 12, 1916. Page 11. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045487/1916-10-12/ed-1/seq-11/

[6] "Ford's $1,000,000 Libel Suit Starts." The Washington Times, Washington, D.C. May 12, 1919. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1919-05-12/ed-1/seq-1/

[7] "Ford Cleared; Not An Anarchist." Mount Vernon Signal, Mt. Vernon, Ky. August 22, 1919. Page 4. LOC.  http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069561/1919-08-22/ed-1/seq-4/

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