By Olivia Millunzi, Heritage Frederick
On April 24, 1894, a group of men called Coxey’s Army marched through Frederick on their way to Washington, D.C. Though the group included some military veterans, it was made up mostly of unemployed men from a variety of industries, whom Jacob S. Coxey persuaded to march to Washington and petition Congress for aid after the economic depression of 1893. Coxey, an Ohio businessman, led 100 men from Massillon in his home state on March 25 as a “petition in boots.” By their arrival in Washington on May 1, Coxey’s Army had grown to 500 marchers and a contingent of reporters.
Among Coxey’s proposed changes was a congressionally funded program of public road-building to provide jobs for the nearly four million unemployed individuals in the country at the time. Coxey suggested the program could be funded by substantially increasing the amount of currency in circulation. The entire protest was largely peaceful until Coxey tried to climb the Capitol steps to read a prepared speech. Police blocked his path and began hitting and arresting marchers, including Coxey’s co-organizer, Carl Browne. Authorities maintained the group violated the Capitol Grounds Act, which prohibits displaying political flags or symbols on the Capitol’s grounds.
Most members of Coxey’s Army were camping in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland and were arrested and dispersed by state and local police. For years after the march, the phrase “Coxey’s Army” was used to refer to anything frivolous, disorganized and poorly planned.