Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Massillon's J.S. Coxey led first march on D.C.
On April 16, 1854, Jacob S. Coxey - who would gain fame as the leader of "Coxey's Army," a group of unemployed men who in 1894 staged the first citizens' march on Washington - was born in Selinsgrove, Pa.
Coxey was a wealthy Ohio businessman and Populist party member who grew concerned over the plight of the unemployed during a major depression that started with the Panic of 1893. Many families went hungry, and unemployed men roamed the country begging for jobs and food. Coxey advocated a national system of public roads to be financed by the federal government, arguing that the plan would reduce unemployment. When Congress refused to pass such a bill, Coxey said, "We will send a petition to Washington with boots on."
In 1894, he led an "army" of 100 unemployed men, who left Massillon, Ohio, for Washington on Easter Sunday. They were met by cheering crowds in many cities along the way. By the time the marchers arrived in Washington on May 1, they numbered 500.
When Coxey tried to speak at the U.S. Capitol, police arrested him for walking on the grass. His army of unemployed men dispersed.
Coxey was elected mayor of Massillon in 1931 and was selected as the Farmer-Labor Party's presidential candidate the following year. He received 7,309 votes and was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He later claimed that Roosevelt's New Deal was based on his ideas of public works, proposed in the late 19th century. Coxey died in 1951.
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