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4/16/1854 - 5/18/1951
Born in Selinsgrove, Jacob Coxey led Coxey's Army, marches on Washington to protest unemployment and government inaction in 1894 and 1914.
Jacob Coxey was born on April 16, 1854, in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. After receiving a short education, Coxey moved to Massillon, Ohio, to enter the workforce and became a very successful man. He became interested in politics and unemployment across the country, leading Coxey's Army on a March on Washington where he was imprisoned. Coxey ran for a number of political offices under many different political parties, all of which were unsuccessful except for a short run as Governor in Ohio. At age 90, Coxey returned to Washington to deliver the speech he had previously been prevented from giving. Jacob Coxey died age 97 on May 18, 1951.
Jacob Sechler Coxey, was born on April 16, 1854, in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.Growing up attending public school in Danville, until the age 15, he decided to drop out of school to begin working at a steel mill.Coxey worked in the mill until he found a position as an operator on stationary engines, which led him to a short lived job running a scrap iron business.
In need of change, Coxey decided to move to Massillon, Ohio, in 1881, where he bought a sandstone quarry.Proving to be a huge success, Coxey started to expand his business into agricultural holdings, as well as buying a number of ranches and race horses.During the late 1880s and early 1890s, Coxey started to advocate support of the small working and unemployed Americans by the government. He did so as a member of the Greenback Party, a political party in opposition of the move from paper money to coin money, believing in a strong government controlled monetary system.Coxey ran for a seat in the Ohio State Senate in 1885, but fell short in an unsuccessful campaign.
Coxey then began working on plans for public works programs.Among these were plans for both the state and federal governments to authorize rural road construction programs.The plan was to give unemployed workers the opportunity for work in constructing public roads, effectively taking control of transportation away from railroads and privately owned canals, which benefited the rich at the expense of the poor. His plans would eventually be rejected.He later abandoned the Greenback Party and joined the Populist Party.The Populist Party was a short-lived political group that strongly opposed the idea of a gold standard and was prominently made up of western farmers.Coxey, still fighting for change, met Carl Browne, who believed in his plans for road construction and also had a talent for organizing social movements - a skill Coxey lacked.By the end of 1893, Jacob Coxey had become the wealthiest man in Massillon, worth an estimated quarter million dollars, having been reported paying $40,000 on a single horse, enough money during his time to employ 80 labor workers for a single year.
Armed with a partner, Coxey called for a national poor people's campaign that would march on Washington DC and demand a national works program.Coxey, gaining the focus of the public eye, left Massillon with a small "army" in late spring of 1894.Coxey's Army arrived in Washington DC on May 1. Coxey's second wife, his oldest son Jesse, his daughter Mamie, and his younger son Legal Tender arrived unexpectedly to show their support.Coxey, predicting that he would arrive at Washington with 100,000 unemployed men, never had more than 300 men on the road with him at any given time, and had only about 1,000 men who believed in his cause waiting for him in Washington. These armies formed a diverse group of individuals; Native Americans, women, and both white and African American men stood alongside Coxey until both he and Browne were arrested for trespassing on the grass of the Capital lawn before Coxey could deliver his speech. The pair spent 20 days in prison.
Many papers considered the march a national joke.As Carlos Schwantes noted in Coxey's Army: An American Odyssey, a spectator of the ordeal was quoted saying "The Coxey Movement died out as rapidly as it started and within the year it is already a half forgotten episode.It is almost impossible to realize now the intensity of felling it evoked... it is not probable its like will even be seen again. It was as unique as a stray comet..."
Coxey returned to Ohio where he was nominated by the People's Party for the 18th district seat. The following year in 1895 and then in 1897 Coxey was nominated by the People's Party to be the Governor of Ohio, but failed to win election.In 1916, Coxey ran for a seat in the United States Senate and again met disappointment.Six years later, Coxey ran for the 18th district a second time as an independent against Republican Franklin Murphy, but was met with defeat.In 1924, Coxey decided to run for the 16th District seat against the Democrats to which he lost.Not accepting defeat, Coxey again tried for the 16th district seat running for the Republican Party two years later and lost.He later tried to join the US Senate under the Republican Party where he was unsuccessful.Coxey continued to run for office and continued to fail until he served as the Mayor of Massillon from 1931 through 1934.During this time Coxey became a Presidential Candidate for the Farmer Labor Party both in 1932 and then again in 1936 under the Union party.
In 1944, Jacob Coxey again made his march on Washington fifty years to the day of his original march on the Capitol, May 1.He returned to give the speech he had developed fifty years before.Though his marches may have not proved to be successful, Coxey did plant the seeds for change in the future of unemployment in America.Coxey and his wife celebrated their sixtieth anniversary on September 3, 1950.The following year Jacob Coxey died at age 97 on May 18, 1951.
A quotation from the American Review posted in June 1894 about Coxey's march, mentioned by Carlos Schwantes in Coxey's Army: An American Odyssey, stated "I think this movement is the most dangerous this country has seen since the Civil War... Intimidation of Congress by the presence of a body of armed men is rebellion pure and simple, and should be stamped out just as the great rebellion was in 1861."Jacob Coxey was considered by some to be a revolutionary, and by others to be an oddball fanatic.Coxey, being a wealthy man in the time of Gilded Age when it was extremely rare for a man of wealth to associate themselves with unemployed workers, fought for more opportunity for men in the work force to better society.Coxey worked to employ the jobless and help the economy regain its health.While many cartoonists in his time drew Coxey as a typical old crank, he was said to resemble more of a harmless middle-aged professor rather than how he was often portrayed.Jacob Coxey laid the foundation for future development in the fight against unemployment, challenging the government and the American people to confront this serious issue.
- Edwards, Rebecca. "The Depression of 1893." 1896 Economic Depression. 2000. 18 February 2007. 2009. <http://projects.vassar.edu/1896/depression.html>.
- "Jacob S. Coxey Sr." Biographies. Answers Corporation. 2006. 20 February 2007. 2009. <http://www.answers.com/topic/jacob-s-coxey-sr>.
- McMurray, Donald Le Crone. Coxey's Army: A Study of the Industrial Movement of 1894. Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1968.
- Schwantes, Carlos A. Coxey's Army: An American Odyssey. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1985.
Photo Credit: "The Coxey Plan." 1914. Photograph. Licensed under Fair Use. Cropped to 4x3, Black & White. Source: Wikimedia Commons.