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Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 25, 2012

Coxey's Army encamped

March 25, 1894: Coxey’s Army begins their march to Washington, D.C. The march was organized by Jacob Coxey. The country was in the midst of an economic depression – the worst to date. The Panic of 1893 began with the fall of two of the largest employers in the nation. The collapse of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and National Cordage induced a panic in the stock market with cascading effects. Banks called in loans forcing many businesses into bankruptcy. The Panic lasted four years. In that time, over 15,000 businesses closed along with 600 banks, 74 railroads, and many steel mills.

Nationwide unemployment reached 20-25%. Ohio was especially hard hit with unemployment reaching 50% of industrial workers. Without income, families became homeless and lacked money for food. The men wanted to work; to provide for their dependents. Jacob Coxey lived in Massillon, a steel town in northwest Ohio. He called for the unemployed to join forces and march to Washington, D.C. to demand jobs. He was seeking government created jobs for the “involuntary idle.” The official name for the protest march was Commonweal in Christ but the marchers became known as Coxey’s Army.

About 100 men gathered at Massillon and set out on foot for Washington, D.C. The shortest distance over today’s roads is 350 miles. The route used would have covered closer to 450 miles. The army slowly picked up supporters along the way. Other contingents from various parts of the country also marched and the armies converged. By the end of April there were 500 men approaching Washington. The armies arrived at a 260 acre farm in Maryland. Eventually there were 6,000 unemployed men camped out. Coxey led several hundred into the capital and he and several other leaders were arrested for walking on the grass of the United States Capitol grounds.

While not a resounding success by itself, the Coxey Army was the first noteworthy popular protest march. After Coxey’s arrest the men dispersed but Washington had taken notice. Populism was seen as a threat and was feared by politicians. The economy improved slowly. Coxey led a second march on Washington in 1914. He ran for a variety of political positions from state and federal congressional seats to a run for the Presidency itself. He lost most of his bids. He was elected as mayor of Massillon from 1931 to 1933 but could not manage to be reelected. His last bid for any election came in 1941. He died in 1951 at the age of 97.

In dreams he sees an army. Then Coxey awakes and sees only fifty tramps. – from the New York Times

Nearly 100 recruits … arrived. … Most of them are tramps who camped in the woods surrounding the town during the night. A number of them slept in the lock-up, but were released this morning. – from the New York Times

A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under this sun. – Thomas Carlyle

The shock of unemployment becomes a pathology in its own right. – Robert Farrar Capon

Also on this day:

On Your Marks – In 1668, the first horse race was run in the American colonies.
Titan Discovered – In 1655, Christiaan Huygens discovered one of Saturn’s moons.
First Passenger Train – In 1908, the Oystermouth Railway began service.

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