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Coxey's Army and the unemployed movement

Stacy Warner Maddern

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place Northern America » United States of America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899

Key-Topics labor, labor movements, poverty, revolution

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00420.x


By 1894, political demonstrations in the United States were perceived as a threat to American cities. This was largely due to the events that occurred at Chicago's Haymarket Square in 1888. However, this did not dissuade Jacob Coxey and Carl Browne from organizing a “petition in boots” that would serve as a precedent for a new type of national public protest in the United States. The nation was in the grip of a depression much like the Great Depression of the 1930s, and Coxey and his supporters had grown frustrated with government inaction. To alleviate the suffering of the working class, Coxey, a businessman from Ohio, proposed a number of programs that, though popular in the 1930s, were seen as too radical for the 1890s. He wanted the government to create jobs by hiring the unemployed to perform public works, specifically road improvements. By marching on Washington, “Coxey's Army” hoped to attract considerable attention from both Congress and the press. The march, centered on delivering to Congress Coxey's Good Roads Bill, was criticized in the press as a hostile measure, “at war with the fundamental principle upon which free institutions rest.” In response, Coxey's Army held that they were merely meeting their obligation as citizens to improve the country; however, Congress had a different opinion. While the march did gain congressional support in populist Senator William ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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