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Rebel In A Wing Collar
Marching on Washington is an old custom. When “General” Jacob Coxey and his Commonweal Army approached in 1894, the city trembled. But “the most dangerous man since the Civil War” meekly surrendered when nabbed for walking on the grass
December 1966 | Volume 18, Issue 1
Arriving at the east steps of the Capitol, Coxey attempted to address the crowd, but was told it was against the law. He then asked permission to read a written protest, which was also denied him. At this point, just as he handed a written copy of the protest to the press, the crowd became unruly and what was described as a riot broke out. Browne’s horse leaped a low wall, followed by an entire squadron of mounted policemen. Less than five minutes later, order was restored, and Coxey, Browne, and Christopher Columbus Jones were placed under arrest. On May 8, the three were found guilty of walking on the grass of the Capitol, fined five dollars each, and sentenced to twenty days in jail. Meanwhile, all across the nation, scattered bits of the army continued to march toward Washington, unaware that the cause was already lost. About a hundred or more from the main army camped briefly across the Maryland line, but after many complaints by farmers of food being stolen, the governor sent a number of Baltimore policemen to round up the men, about eighty of whom were jailed as vagrants.
So ended what some had called the “red menace” of 1894. Carl Browne continued to agitate for organized labor until his death in 1913. Coxey returned to Ohio, but did not sink into the oblivion that would surely have come to him if he had been no more than a publicity-seeker. Indeed, for another half-century, he made further attempts to win over Congress, and in 1914 led a second, sadly unnoticed march on Washington, again for public-works projects. A lesser spirit might have quit then, but Coxey was a man who shrugged off abuse, derision, and failure. It did not impair his sense of his own immortal fame to be named candidate for President in 1932 on the Farmer-Labor ticket (in Minnesota, he received 5,371 votes, almost as many as the Communist candidate), and to lose.
His struggles were not altogether unrewarded. In the iggo’s he had the satisfaction of seeing some of his ideas incorporated in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s publicworks projects: he had been, in his time, a kind of harbinger of the New Deal.
His final ambition, to be a centenarian, was denied him: he died in 1951, at the age of ninety-seven. Several children survived him, but not that infant son he had carried down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1894, Legal Tender Coxey by name.