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Sunday, March 25, 2018

See? Marches Never Work.

It started in Ohio:

In 1894, Jacob S. Coxey, an owner of a sand quarry in Massillon, Ohio, faced difficult financial times as the Panic of 1893 gripped the United States. In protest of the federal government's failure to assist the American populace during this economic downturn, Coxey formed a protest march that became known as "Coxey's Army." The group left Massillon, numbering one hundred men, on Easter Sunday, with the intention of marching to Washington, DC, to demand that the United States government assist the American worker. As the group marched to Washington, hundreds more workers joined it along the route. Coxey claimed that his army would eventually number more than 100,000 men. By the time that the army reached Washington, it numbered only five hundred men.

Upon arriving in Washington, Coxey and his supporters demanded that the federal government immediately assist workers by hiring them to work on public projects such as roads and government buildings. The United States Congress and President Grover Cleveland refused.

The New York Times reported--in a tone one modern chronicler calls "bewildered amusement"--the day before departure:

IN DREAMS HE SEES AN ARMY.; Then Coxey Awakes and Sees Only Fifty Tramps.

MASSILLON, Ohio, March 24 -- Nearly 100 recruits for Coxey's Commonweal Army arrived to-day from different points. 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 rehersed this morning. Among the arrivals is lass M. McCallum, who represents Mrs. Lease, and who asked permission to have her address the army at Pittsburg, which Coxey refused.
...
It is claimed by Marshal Browne that nearly fifty recruits have arrived in Massillon, but up to last night, none of them had been discovered, and reputable Massillonians asserted that the arrivals were all in the mind of the the “Seer and Prophet” as the Marshal styles himself.  The headquarters of the Commonweal consist of one unfurnished room in a new block in West Main Street, one small desk, which when new, cost $7.25, one small soft-coal stove, one nail keg, two chairs, and one saloon table, which has recently seen some service.  Here the mail is opened every morning, and plans for the great movement are talked over.

The Paper of Record didn't know quite what to make of all this, and it's not clear the particpants did either.  While there was a good bit of energy and a lot of common interest, there doesn't appear to have been a whole lot of cohesion in the so-called army.

For example, here's a story in the Times on April 14COMMONWEALERS NIGH UNTO RIOT.; Marshal Browne Bounced by Coxey's "Unknown" in Maryland.  And then when they arrived in DC on April 30th:

  • COXEY WILL DEFY THE LAW - WILL SPEAK AT THE CAPITOL EVEN IF FORBIDDEN. (April 30)
  • COXEY PLACED UNDER ARREST - The Leader of the Mob of Tramps...May Be Fined or Imprisoned Sixty Days. (May 2)
  • COXEY'S ARMY DWINDLING AWAY - According to the order issued yesterday by the District Commissioners, Gen. Coxley would have to remove his camp by Saturday morning...[he] explained that it would be impossible for him to get his men out on so short notice. (May 10)

None other than Jack London took part in the Western contingent:

A "stiff" is a tramp. It was once my fortune to travel a few weeks with a "push" that numbered two thousand. This was known as "Kelly's Army." Across the wild and woolly West, clear from California, General Kelly and his heroes had captured trains; but they fell down when they crossed the Missouri and went up against the effete East. The East hadn't the slightest intention of giving free transportation to two thousand hoboes. Kelly's Army lay helplessly for some time at Council Bluffs. The day I joined it, made desperate by delay, it marched out to capture a train.
...
Then some local genius solved the problem. We wouldn't walk. Very good. We should ride. From Des Moines to Keokuk on the Mississippi flowed the Des Moines River. This particular stretch of river was three hundred miles long. We could ride on it, said the local genius; and, once equipped with floating stock, we could ride on down the Mississippi to the Ohio, and thence up the Ohio, winding up with a short portage over the mountains to Washington.

Des Moines took up a subscription. Public-spirited citizens contributed several thousand dollars. Lumber, rope, nails, and cotton for calking were bought in large quantities, and on the banks of the Des Moines was inaugurated a tremendous era of shipbuilding. Now the Des Moines is a picayune stream, unduly dignified by the appellation of "river." In our spacious western land it would be called a "creek." The oldest inhabitants shook their heads and said we couldn't make it, that there wasn't enough water to float us. Des Moines didn't care, so long as it got rid of us, and we were such well-fed optimists that we didn't care either.

Pay special attention to what happened when London and 9 others went Galt.  Anyway, being an angry, dispossesed tramp is a lot of work...

ntodd

March 25, 2018 in Pax Americana | Permalink

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