Coxey's Army

On Tuesday, May 1, 1894, four years before the Spanish-American War, a group of unemployed men and women, many of them joined by their spouses and children, marched on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, In the midst of a depression year, many faced financial hardships and struggled to feed their families, and some of those who were out of work and afflicted decided to take a stand to promote progress. Led by businessman Jacob Sechler Coxey, the crowd of more than 500 hoped that the march would get President Grover Cleveland's attention so that Cleveland would create public works jobs to help improve the U.S. economy.

Coxey, born April 16, 1854, in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, was the owner of a crushing mill in Massillon, Ohio, in addition to several ranches in other states. He was a member of the Greenback Party, founded in 1874 in support of currency expansion. The march, which began in Massillon, lasted six to seven weeks and faced many obstacles along the way: a snow storm, arrests, and internal disagreements. The army arrived in Washington, DC, on the last day of April, and government authorities feared the worst, taking special precautions to prevent any violent outbreaks.

On May 1, after reaching the capital, Coxey and Carl Browne, the man who is said to have been the one to conceive the march, were arrested for a period of 20 days for trespassing, reportedly for having walked on the grass. Fellow marchers gradually disbanded, and the march proved unsuccessful, failing to bring about any legislation. It was, however, part of the inspiration to create unemployment insurance, the Social Security Act, and other New Deal programs later passed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a response to the Great Depression.

Gustavo Adolfo Aybar

See also: Bonus Army ; Cleveland, Grover (1837–1908) ; Coxey, Jacob (1854–1951) ; New Deal ; Panic of 1893


McMurry, Donald L. Coxey's Army: A Study of the Industrial Army Movement of 1894. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1968.

Schwantes, Carlos A. Coxey's Army: An American Odyssey. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.