Jacob S. Coxey (1854 – 1951) — Businessman, Politician, Advocate for the Unemployed and Organizer of Coxey’s Army March to Washington, D.C. Beginning Easter Sunday, March 25, 1894
Jacob Sechler Coxey was born on April 16, 1854, in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. He received his education in the Danville, Pennsylvania, public schools, before dropping out of school and taking a job with a local steel mill. In 1881, Coxey moved to Massillon, Ohio, where he established the Coxey Silica Sand Company. His business proved to be a huge success and Coxey started to expand his interests into agricultural holdings, as well as buying a number of ranches and racehorses. Coxey was also a member of the Greenback Party, a political party in opposition of the move from paper money to coin money. He ran for a seat in the Ohio State Senate in 1885, but he fell short in an unsuccessful campaign.
The economic depression of the 1890s was sparked by the panic of 1893. During this period, Jacob Coxey’s business interests began to experience difficult financial times. It was also a period when long-time unemployment became widespread and many Americans came to the realization that in an industrialized society the threat to economic security represented by unemployment could strike anyone–even those able and willing to work.
Through his travels of the Midwest, Coxey found the roads to be in terrible condition; and he observed many able-bodied workers were unemployed. Since the federal government appeared unwilling to assist the unemployed during this economic downturn. Coxey was moved to design and propose a federal government investment plan that in his estimation would improve roads and at the same time employ thousands of men needing work. The $500 million program he proposed would be funded by non-interest-bearing bonds. The Coxey plan was pitched in the U.S. House and Senate but it didn’t get anywhere.
The lack of enthusiasm for his plan in Washington served as an incentive for Coxey to plan and organize a protest march of jobless men that would depart on Easter Sunday, March 25, 1894, from his farm near Massillon, Ohio, and arrive in Washington by May 1 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; however, by the time 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. Law enforcement officials arrested Coxey for trespassing on public property. Coxey’s Army quickly dispersed upon its leader’s arrest.
Coxey was released from jail and returned to Ohio, where he fought for the rights of the working class. He ran unsuccessfully as the People’s Party (the Populist Party) candidate for Ohio governor in 1895 and 1897. In 1895, he received fifty-two thousand votes, but as the economy improved, Coxey’s support dwindled. In 1897, he received fewer than seven thousand votes. Coxey also ran for the United States Congress, the United States Senate, and twice for the Presidency of the United States. He lost every election.
Jacob Coxey was considered by some to be a revolutionary, and by others to be an oddball fanatic. Being a wealthy man in the time of the Gilded Age, it was extremely rare for a man of his wealth to be an advocate for the unemployed workers. Coxey worked to employ the jobless and help the economy regain its health. In many ways, Jacob Coxey laid the foundation for future development in the fight against unemployment by showing the government and the people of America that unemployment was a serious problem that needed to be brought into people’s attention, a goal which he did accomplish. Coxey died in Massillon, Ohio in 1951.
Edwards, Rebecca. “The Depression of 1893.” 1896 Economic Depression. 2000. 18 Feb. 2007.
“Jacob S. Coxey Sr.” Biographies. Answers Corporation. 2006. 20 Feb. 2007.
McMurray, Donald Le Crone. Coxey’s Army: A Study of the Industrial Movement of 1894. Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1968.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project. (2011). Jacob S. Coxey (1854 – 1951) — Businessman, politician, advocated for the unemployed and organizers of Coxey’s Army March to Washington, D.C. beginning Easter Sunday, March 25, 1894. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/coxey-jacob-s/
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Musical tribute to Jacob Coxey and his march for jobs and justice!