Coxey's Army

Coxey's Army was a protest march by unemployed workers from the United States, led by the populist Jacob Coxey. They marched on Washington D.C. in 1894, the second year of a four-year economic depression that was the worst in United States history to that time. Officially named the Commonweal in Christ, its nickname came from its leader and was more enduring. It was the first significant popular protest march on Washington and the expression "Enough food to feed Coxey's Army" originates from this march. For many years, the low value Pinochle meld of four Jacks was called Coxey's Army.

The march

The purpose of the march was to protest the unemployment caused by the Panic of 1893 and to lobby for the government to create jobs which would involve building roads and other public works improvements. The march originated with 100 men in Massillon, Ohio on March 25, 1894. Various groups from around the country gathered to join the march, and its number had grown to 500 with more on the way from further west when it reached Washington on April 30, 1894. Coxey and other leaders of the movement were arrested the next day for walking on the grass of the United States Capitol, and the rest of the men scattered.

Some of the most militant Coxeyites were those who formed their own "armies" in Pacific Northwest centers such as Butte, Tacoma, Spokane, and Portland. Many of these protesters were unemployed railroad workers who blamed railroad companies, President Cleveland's monetary policies, and excessive freight rates for their plight. The climax of this movement was perhaps on April 21, 1894 when William Hogan and approximately 500 followers commandeered a Northern Pacific Railway train for their trek to Washington, D.C. They enjoyed support along the way, which enabled them to fight off the federal marshals attempting to stop them. Federal troops finally apprehended the Hoganites near Forsyth, Montana. While the protesters never made it to the capital, the military intervention they provoked proved to be a rehearsal for the federal force that broke the Pullman Strike that year.

Coxey's army in culture

Among the people observing the march was L. Frank Baum, before he gained fame. There are political interpretations of his book, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which have often been related to Coxey's Army. In the novel, Dorothy, the Scarecrow (the American farmer), Tin Woodman (the industrial worker), and Cowardly Lion (political leader), march on the yellow brick road to Oz, the Capitol (or Washington DC), demanding relief from the Wizard, who is interpreted to be the President. Dorothy's shoes are interpreted to symbolize using free silver instead of the gold standard (the road of yellow brick) because the shortage of gold precipitated the Panic of 1893. In the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, the silver shoes were turned into ruby for the cinematic effect of color, as Technicolor was still in its early years when The Wizard of Oz was produced.

The phrase Coxey's army has also come to refer to a ragtag band.

Coxey's army also plays a prominent role in Garet Garrett's The Driver where the main character is a journalist following the march.

See also


  • Schwantes, Carlos A. Coxey’s Army: An American Odyssey (1985)

External links

  • Daily Bleed Calendar: March 25, 1894
  • "Recollections of a contingent of Coxey's Army passing through Straughn, Indiana, in April of 1894," poem by Jared Carter.
  • The Cause and the Cure pamphlet by Jacob Coxey, containing his ideas, and his statement before the Sub-Committee of Ways and Means Committee of Congress, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Jan. 8, 1895.

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