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Sunday, September 09, 2012

COXEY'S ARMY Pt Seven BEING HEARD


I imagine that every one of the seven miles from Brightwood Park to the capital were very tense for Coxey’s men. The now 500 man Army was swollen by supporters to 4,000, who were hoping, I suspect, to protect the marchers with their bodies, if necessary. They were further supported by 12,000 witnesses, among whom was Mr. L. Frank Baum, who the next year would pen the children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. The crowds lined the route of the Army down 16th Street to Massachusetts Avenue, then across to Mount Vernon Square (to avoid passing the White House), south on 9th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, which they followed directly to the capital building. 
"This is a great comfort," he said. "I have been holding that axe in the air ever since I rusted, and I'm glad to be able to put it down at last. Now, if you will oil the joints of my legs, I shall be all right once more." 
So they oiled his legs until he could move them freely; and he thanked them again and again for his release, for he seemed a very polite creature, and very grateful. "I might have stood there always if you had not come along," he said; "so you have certainly saved my life. How did you happen to be here?" 
"We are on our way to the Emerald City to see the Great Oz," she answered, "and we stopped at your cottage to pass the night." 
"Why do you wish to see Oz?" he asked. 
"I want him to send me back to Kansas, and the Scarecrow wants him to put a few brains into his head," she replied. 
The Tin Woodman appeared to think deeply for a moment. Then he said: "Do you suppose Oz could give me a heart?" 
"Why, I guess so," Dorothy answered. "It would be as easy as to give the Scarecrow brains." 
"True," the Tin Woodman returned. "So, if you will allow me to join your party, I will also go to the Emerald City and ask Oz to help me."
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" 
By this time the crowd was so large, it was being led by 25 mounted Metropolitan Policemen, just to keep the Army moving. Ray Standard Baker, covering the march for the Chicago Record, noted that “Coxey’s carriage (stopped) near the “B” street entrance to the grounds…Rising from his seat, he stooped over and kissed his wife, as if realizing something of the terrible ordeal to follow”.
Jacob Coxey then “leaped nimbly to the ground, and in a moment he and Browne were swallowed up in a wild surging mob of men which lifted them from their feet and bore them bodily across the street to the Capital grounds. More than four hundred mounted policemen…rode into the crowd with the intention of capturing the two…but they might as well have attempted to arrest a cyclone. The mob forced one of them against a stone wall…and threw his horse violently to the ground. Coxey…lost his footing and in a moment he was at the bottom of a pack of writhing, struggling humanity.” 
“The mounted policemen lost their heads…and began striking everyone within reach. Women and children were ruthlessly ridden down…All this time Coxey had been struggling through the crowd toward the central steps of the capital….Before anyone knew it Coxey was bounding up the East front…He was up to the tenth step before he was recognized. Then the officers closed in on him.”
Holding Coxey’s arm, Captain Garden of the Capital Police demanded, “What do you want here?” Coxey replied, “I want to make an address.” Gardner told him he would not be allowed to do that. “Then can I read a protest?” asked Coxey. The answer was no. It was all over in less than five confused minutes.
Jacob Coxey was not arrested on the capital steps, no matter what the history books say. He was ushered back to his carriage, and the Army, now under the command of his son Jesse Coxey, marched “like a funeral procession” toward their new camp, at the site of an old dump on M street, which they dubbed “Camp Tyranny”. However Carl Browne and another aide had been arrested in the melee. 
On Wednesday, May 2nd. Jacob Coxey was in court to show support and pay the fines for his two friends. And then he was arrested. The charges laid against all three men were carrying banners illegally and walking on the grass. They were immediately thrown in jail. One week later, on Tuesday, May 8th, all three were tried in District Court, where it was revealed that the illegal banners they were charged with displaying were the three by two inch cloth lapel pins worn by every member of the Army. Coxey always maintained that he never stepped on the grass. It did not matter. All three men were found guilty, fined five dollars each and sentenced to an additional 20 days in jail.
Coxey’s Army stayed in Camp Tyranny for two weeks, playing baseball, drilling and attending rallies, until the D.C. Board of Health ordered them to move. They then returned to their camp at Hyattsville for another week. Then a hotel in Bladensburg, Maryland provided free rooms for the newly released Coxey and Browne, while the Army cramped in the back yard. Heavy rains in June drove the marchers to higher ground and this time they moved to Roslyn, Virginia. Finally, on August 11th their numbers had dwindled to the point that the Governor of Maryland dispatched Baltimore Police Officers to sweep in and arrest the remaining 80 men on charges of vagrancy. That whimper was the end of Coxey's Army of 1894.
In the speech Coxey had intended upon reading on the steps of the capital, was a desperate plea. “We choose this place of assemblage because it is the property of the people,” he had wanted to say. “We…say, help, or we and our loved ones must perish… we come to remind the Congress here assembled of the declaration of a United States Senator, “that for a quarter of a century the rich have been growing richer, the poor poorer, and that by the close of the present century the middle class will have disappeared as the struggle for existence becomes fierce and relentless.” That was what all he had wanted to say.
In the wake of Coxey’s Army, ex-President William Howard Taft was asked what a man with a family was to do when there were no jobs. The President replied “Lord knows. I do not.” He didn’t. Neither did he have any idea how to help revive the national economy. Two years later, the Denver News would still note, “There are millions of heads of families partially or wholly out of employment…In the agricultural districts wages have fallen one-half. In manufacturing…the aggregate of all wages paid is at the starvation point.” The depression would continue for yet another two long years, and during this lost decade, those with little imagination fiercely contended that there was nothing that could be done to mitigate the disaster; Nothing.
Then, in 1898 the United States went to war with Spain. We raised an army and invaded Cuba. And at about the same time the six year long depression came to an end. But conservative economists argue that this war could not have revived the economy. The budgets increases were far too small and it was far too short a war. Besides, increasing taxes and government investment in infrastructure could not revive a depressed economy. And that may be so. But if it is so, then the war spending and the end of the depression was one heck of a coincidence in 1898, and again in 1942. 
I think the best memorial for those unnamed heroes of the spring of 1894 was provided by a bar fly in New York City named Feeb, who composed and preformed songs for his supper. “Come, boys, turn around the beer keg. And listen to my song, Great Coxey is among us, to right each grievous wrong. N'o more shall sorrow grip us, We're on the way to wealth…With a glass in every hand; Sing to Coxey and his army, And free lunch all in the land.”
"…and the Witch said to the Scarecrow, "What will you do when Dorothy has left us?"
"I will return to the Emerald City," he replied, "for Oz has made me its ruler and the people like me. The only thing that worries me is how to cross the hill of the Hammer-Heads." 
"By means of the Golden Cap I shall command the Winged Monkeys to carry you to the gates of the Emerald City," said Glinda, "for it would be a shame to deprive the people of so wonderful a ruler." 
"Am I really wonderful?" asked the Scarecrow. 
"You are unusual," replied Glinda." 
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
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