Jacob S. Coxey

From Ohio History Central
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Portrait of labor leader Jacob S. Coxey as a young man, ca. 1894. Coxey was known as "General Coxey" and received national recognition when he led an "Industrial Army" of unemployed workers to Washington, D. C. to protest the federal government's response to the economic depression of the 1890s.

Jacob Coxey was a prominent political figure and labor-rights advocate during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.

Coxey was born on April 16, 1854, in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. He received his education in Danville, Pennsylvania, public schools, before taking a job with a local mill. In 1881, Coxey moved to Massillon, Ohio, where he established the Coxey Silica Sand Company. This business operated a sand quarry.

Coxey quickly faced difficult financial times as the Panic of 1893 gripped the United States. In protest of the federal government's failure to assist the U.S. populace during this economic downturn, Coxey formed a protest march. The group left Massillon with the intention of marching to Washington, DC, to demand that the United States government assist U.S. workers. As the group marched to Washington, hundreds more workers joined along the route. Coxey claimed that his army would eventually number more than 100,000 men. By the time the group reached Washington, it numbered only five hundred men, and the group became known as "Coxey's Army."

Upon arrival in Washington, Coxey demanded the federal government immediately assist workers by hiring them to work on public projects such as roads and government buildings. The United States Congress and President Grover Cleveland refused. Law enforcement officials arrested Coxey for trespassing on public property. Coxey's Army quickly dispersed upon its leader's arrest.

Coxey was released from jail and returned to Ohio, where he fought for the rights of the working class. He ran unsuccessfully as the People's Party (the Populist Party) candidate for Ohio governor in 1895 and 1897. In 1895, he received fifty-two thousand votes, but as the economy improved, Coxey's support dwindled. In 1897, he received fewer than seven thousand votes. Coxey also ran for the United States House, the United States Senate, and twice for the Presidency of the United States. He lost every election. In 1914, Coxey led another protest march on Washington. Once again, the federal government refused to listen to his proposals. In 1931, Coxey succeeded in winning election to the mayor's seat of Massillon. The following year, he received seventy-five thousand votes in the Republican Party's presidential primaries. He did not, however, win the party's nomination.

Coxey died in Massillon in 1951.

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