In Gregory R. Piche’s new book, The Four Trials of Henry Ford, four landmark court cases reveal the dark side of Ford’s legal clashes and the quirks of his character and personality that ushered his image in the public’s imagination from mechanical savant and populist sage to isolated, imperious bigot. Below is an exclusive excerpt from the book.
There once was an upcoming election year for the Presidency of the United States. Among the candidates jockeying for position was a billionaire businessman. He was largely financing his own campaign and relying on his ability to master public media in unconventional ways to build up public support with a focus primarily in the rural areas of America. He planned to run an unorthodox campaign, on the cheap, by relying in large part on free media exposure. This candidate was known for outlandish statements to the media that were frequently and demonstrably false and appealed to the darker instincts of the rural population. He was prone to exaggeration and hyperbole.
He embraced overt appeals to bigotry and a strictly Nativist, “America First” doctrine championing isolationism and his ability to create jobs. The candidate, a teetotaler, was renowned for his sharp elbows in the business world. He was a well-known, thin-skinned, full-on narcissist, obsessed with his own image and success. He lacked personal empathy, except when there was something in it for himself.
This candidate had business interests in many countries and had a particular fondness for regimes run by strong, authoritarian men. He gratefully accepted accolades from totalitarian dictators. He used his great wealth to bully those who provided goods and services to his enterprises. While initially using the American legal system to advance his business and personal objectives, he was eventually consumed by it over a period of fifteen years.
The candidate was Henry Ford. “Every detached observer who has studied the career of Henry Ford and knows the requirements of the greatest of offices at this juncture in the affairs of humanity must shudder at the thought of this man being in control of our national destinies… He is the victim of great gusts of passion as sudden and terrible as those which break over the tropics. What havoc will such storms wreck in the executive mansion?”—Oswald Garrison Villard.(1)
The question on many people’s minds, then, was whether a wealthy but ignorant narcissist could competently and effectively serve as the President of the United States. The safe bet answer was “no.”