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.