Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy History



Via Occupy History:

Coxey’s Army heads toward the Capitol. (Illus. in: Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper, 1894 May 10, via the Library of Congress.)

Word spread around the country. Men left their homes, their farms and their cities, and headed toward Washington. The economic boom had mostly missed them; they bore the brunt of the bust. They didn’t have jobs. Unemployment surpassed 15 percent. Workers had been replaced by machines, dislocated by trains, were too aware of inequality. They felt disenfranchised, disempowered, and they were angry. They came to be called an army — the most famous of them Coxey’s Army.

Jacob Sechler Coxey was a businessman from Massillon, Ohio. He made his money from his sandstone quarry and spent it on racehorses. He was no robber baron though, and he spent a lot of time thinking about how the country should be improved. He was obsessed with fixing broken roads. In 1894 he could also see the crushing economic crisis that had followed the excesses of the Gilded Age, as banks crashed and businesses went broke, and the homeless wandered and became known as hoboes. Coxey pushed for massive public works programs to give people jobs and fix the nation’s infrastructure.

Many of the men who marched to Washington made a more diffuse protest. They appealed to a vague sense of justice. They said they marched for the "commonweal" of Christ. But mostly they wanted jobs.

On May 1, 1894, a mass of men reached the Capitol. Coxey planned to take the steps to make his speech. But the local government, which had never seen a protest like this, decided things had gone too far. They had a few weapons at their disposal. A democracy allows for certain demonstrations, but not mussing up public spaces and greens. Coxey trampled the shrubs and lawn. And so the leaders were arrested, and the steps were cleared.

6 comments:

cum.lover said...

Permit me, please, a personal note.

My grandfather was born in 1886. Every once in a while he'd use an expression "more folks than Cox's army". I used to wonder who "Cox" was. Now I know.

Writer said...

cum.lover, that's wonderful! I've never actually heard the phrase but to be part of something that ended up becoming a saying is quite amazing. :)

Stan said...

Men would march again on DC in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates.
Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time, visited their camp to back the effort and encourage them. On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two veterans were wounded and later died. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the army to clear the veterans' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned. The media called it the Bonus March.

Tim said...

George Patton commanded the six tanks that were part of MacArthur's assault on the Bonus Army on Pennsylvania Avenue NW (they were squatting in buildings and on land that is now the eastern portion of Federal Triangle). Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in command of the cavalry.

It was 5 PM, as tens of thousands of government workers were leaving for the day. As these horrified office workers watched, the U.S. Army attacked its own veterans. Several more people died in the attack, but their bodies were carried off by the Bonus Marchers or were consumed in the flames that broke out in some of the buildings.

The Bonus Marchers fled southeast, and crossed the 11th Street Bridges to the Anacostia Flats -- where more than 20,000 Bonus Army marchers and their wives and kids were living in tarpaper shacks, tents, and lean-tos constructed of trash, tree branches, and shrubs. MacArthur's men began machine-gunning the tents, and used flame-throwers to burn the people out.

It was the end of the Bonus Army.

It was also the end of Hoover's presidency. Most voters in the fall held the GOP responsible for the attack on the Bonus Army, and the GOP was nearly wiped out in Congress.

There are several good books about the Bonus Army in print. Go to Google Books, type in "Bonus Army" (in quotes), and you can get a good sampling of them. (Some are better than others.)

Writer said...

Stan, history is so amazing! :)

Writer said...

Tim, give me the titles you prefer.

I've never heard about any of this!

:)