1890s March of the unemployed on Washington

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Dur­ing the 1890s Depres­sion, the busi­ness­man Jacob Cox­ey devel­oped the idea that the unem­ployed should be hired by the gov­ern­ment to work on the bad­ly dilap­i­dat­ed roads. His idea cul­mi­nat­ed in a march on Wash­ing­ton by over 10,000 peo­ple, and his arrest for tram­pling Con­gress’s lawns. This 1994 doc­u­men­tary by the Mas­sil­lon Muse­um tells his sto­ry.

Jacob Cox­ey was rid­ing home one day and expe­ri­enced the poor con­di­tions of the road in the 1890s. He also saw many unem­ployed men walk­ing the streets look­ing for work. He had the idea to put unem­ployed men to work towards prob­lems like fix­ing roads. He took this idea and made the Good Roads Bill in 1892. He pre­sent­ed it to Con­gress, but that’s as far as it went. He teamed up with Carl Browne.

To raise aware­ness and sup­port for the bills, Browne and Cox­ey orga­nized a march of unem­ployed men from Mas­sil­lon, Ohio to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., which left on East­er Sun­day, March 25, 1894. Named the “Army of the Com­mon­weal” or “Cox­ey’s Army” marched on foot across Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia, and Mary­land.

As the “Army” approached the Capi­tol build­ing they had grown to 4,000 peo­ple, where they met 12,000 more marchers at the capi­tol. As they pre­pared to speak to the crowd, Cox­ey, Browne and the third leader Christo­pher Colum­bus Jones were arrest­ed for tram­pling the Capi­tol lawn. Wash­ing­ton DC had nev­er dealt with pro­test­ers, and felt threat­ened.

Jacob Cox­ey would not get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to give his speech on the steps of the Capi­tol until 1944, 50 years after his orig­i­nal march on Wash­ing­ton.

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About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.