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organizer of an "army" of protesting workers
Jacob Sechler Coxey was born in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, on April 16, 1854. He was educated in the Danville, Pennsylvania, public schools, after which he took a job with a local mill. In 1881 he moved to Massillon, Ohio, where he established the Coxey Silica Sand Company.
Coxey's business was financially successful for many years, until the Panic of 1893 threatened to ruin him. Angry at the federal government's failure to assist the American populace, Coxey decided to organize a protest march on Washington, D.C. He and about 100 men set out from Massillon on Easter Sunday, 1894. Hundreds of unemployed workers joined the group as it made its way to Washington, and Coxey claimed that his "army" would number over 100,000 by the time it reached the nation's capital.
As "Coxey's Army" advanced on Washington, local officials began to get concerned. Fearing that the protestors might get violent, 1,500 hundred soldiers were stationed in the city, with thousands more kept on stand-by in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Philadelphia. But when the "army" reached Washington, on May 1, 1894, it only numbered about 500 individuals.
After arriving in Washington, Coxey demanded that the federal government immediately assist workers by hiring them to work on public projects, but Congress and President Grover Cleveland refused to listen to his demands. Then, the local police arrested Coxey for trespassing. "Coxey's Army" dispersed almost immediately after his arrest, and the protest was over. Coxey only spent a short time in jail, after which he returned to Ohio.
Despite his protest march's lack of success, Coxey continued to fight for the rights of the working class. He ran as the People's Party candidate for Ohio Governor in 1895 and 1897, but lost both contests. He did manage to garner about 52,000 votes in 1895, but as the economy improved support for his cause dwindled, and he received less than 7,000 votes in 1897. He also ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and twice for the presidency; he lost all four elections. In 1914, he led another protest march on Washington, but, as with the first march, government officials refused to take him seriously. In 1931, he was elected Mayor of Massillon.
On May 1, 1944, Coxey was finally allowed to deliver the speech he had planned to make 50 years earlier. He died in Massillon in 1951.
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This page was last updated on December 07, 2018.