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Sunday, July 06, 2014

COXEY'S ARMY - PLAYING DEFENSE

I would say the last thing America needed in 1894, was more millionaires. Over the previous half century, the nation of less than 70 million people had produced a ten fold increase in the number of millionaires. But no matter how profligate the wealthy might be in their spending, what the nation needed in the spring of 1894 was more consumers, more members of a working middle class with disposable income. In the perfect environment for trickle down economics, there was no trickle. The demand for demand needed to be great enough to absorb the vagaries of a business cycle that was collapsing for want of demand. That was the real answer to the bankruptcy of supply side economics; demand side economics. In thirty years Roosevelt called it the "New Deal"
"In front of them, and at the end of the road of yellow brick, was a big gate...There was a bell beside the gate, and Dorothy pushed the button and heard a silvery tinkle sound within. Then the big gate swung slowly open, and they all passed through and found themselves in a high arched room, the walls of which glistened with countless emeralds. Before them stood a little man...He was clothed all in green, from his head to his feet, and even his skin was of a greenish tint. At his side was a large green box. When he saw Dorothy and her companions the man asked, "What do you wish in the Emerald City?" "We came here to see the Great Oz," said Dorothy. The man was so surprised at this answer that he sat down to think it over.  "It has been many years since anyone asked me to see Oz," he said, shaking his head in perplexity. "He is powerful and terrible, and if you come on an idle or foolish errand to bother the wise reflections of the Great Wizard, he might be angry and destroy you all in an instant." 
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" 
On Tuesday, April 17th , 1894, Coxey’s Army arrived in Cumberland, Maryland, just a hundred air miles short of the nation’s capital. And for the first time Congress began to take public notice of the marchers, and their first reaction was, of course, panic. Congress stayed in session until 6:30 that evening, debating the impending doomsday. Ohio Democrat, Representative Joesph Outwaite, called for Mr. Coxey to remember that “if from 10,000 to 50,000 men can intimidate Congress to do one thing, then another 10,000 to 50,000 men can intimidate them to do another thing—which leads to anarchy.” Of course some might say that was almost by definition not anarchy, but democracy. I might say that, for instance. And I just did.
In fact there had been government meetings behind the scenes before the march had even begun, on how to receive the Army should it make it to Washington. But after some hyperventilating, congress voted down appropriations for a violent reception to Coxey’s Army. And some of the people’s representatives found comfort in the genius of Charles L’Enfant, who had designed the capital as a series of angled broad straight avenues, each of which terminated in huge traffic circles - a plan guaranteed to reduce tourists to tears, be they barbarian invaders or rebelling peasants, as in the case of Coxey’s Army. And anyway, noted the Washington Post at the time, each of those broad avenues could be controlled with a single Gatling gun.
Meanwhile, back in Cumberland, Coxey’s Army camped out on a baseball field, and the businessman from Massillon, Ohio even managed to show a little profit, charging ten cents for people to observe his footsore unemployed. It was an absurd idea, since Cumberland was already overflowing with its own unemployed. But still, the process put $145 in the army’s coffers.
The community of Cumberland had once been Maryland’s second largest city, surrounded by deposits of coal and iron ore. It was also the junction of the National Road, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal, also called the Grand Old Ditch, had not reached Cumberland until 1850, eight years after the railroad. And in the forty-four years since the canal had seen its better days. That was why Jacob Coxey was able to make a such good deal on hiring two canal boats, normally used to carry coal, to transport his Army down stream, cutting a hundred plus road miles off his Army’s march, and saving perhaps three days of shoe leather. As an added plus, Coxey and Carl Browne were also hoping to put their bad press behind them. Browne had begun to refer to the reporters as “argus-eyed demons of hell.”
The cadre of reporters had never felt favorable toward Coxey’s Army, but with the loss of copy from The Great Unknown Smith, they had turned openly hostile, inventing and spreading rumors. Samuel Williams, accompanying the march, described the hundred and fifty unemployed men as “the nucleus of a band of marauders, whose object is to despoil their fellow citizens” and called them “a species of terrorism.” “These bands,” he wrote for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “naturally inspire terror and clashes with the authorities or citizens must come.” Babcock, writing for the Chicago papers, warned that Coxey’s Army, “can scarcely fail to cause bloodshed in Christian Communities”. But it did fail, and the terror was inspired only by those who read the reporter’s inventions. Those who actually saw the Army were generally favorably impressed with its discipline and decorum.  
The reporters were not going to be left behind when Coxey’s Army took to water. The 40 thieves banded together, hired themselves a “press boat”, stocked it with food, a cook and alcohol, and named it “The Flying Demon”. It looked, recorded one of its denizens, “like a floating picture by Victor Hugo.” 
On Thursday, April 19th, Coxey’s Army disembarked at Williamsport, Maryland, and marched the six miles to Hagerstown. Here they camped for two days. The community, having been fed for weeks on the press reports of tramps, thieves and anarchists, were not happy to see them. The Associated Press reported on the 21st, that, “The people of Hagerstown are preparing to make the best of the…Army for another day, or perhaps two days. Browne has determined on revenge for the rather cold reception of yesterday”. In truth, the Army was awaiting the arrival of additional unemployed marchers from Philadelphia, which the A.P. described in the most alarming terms. “…A party of thirty tramps is reported moving down the valley from Carlisle.” In the village of Middletown, said the press, “deputies are being sworn in to protect the town.” Still, even the alarmist press was forced to admit that “the conduct of the Coxey men In Hagerstown has so far been exemplary.”
More than that, it was evident that the Army had learned a thing or two about marketing. They erected a canvas screen around their camp, and charged admission to stare at the unemployed men cooking their meals and tending to their daily needs, even selling their hard-tack biscuits as souvenirs to the gawkers. “The badges the men wear have also acquired a market value, and sets of the several varieties bring good prices, some of them commanding a dollar each.”
It remained to be seen what profit the nation would make from the Army, now that it was so close to its goal.
"Well, one day I went up in a balloon and the ropes got twisted, so that I couldn't come down again. It went way up above the clouds, so far that a current of air struck it and carried it many, many miles away. For a day and a night I traveled through the air, and on the morning of the second day I awoke and found the balloon floating over a strange and beautiful country. It came down gradually, and I was not hurt a bit. But I found myself in the midst of a strange people, who, seeing me come from the clouds, thought I was a great Wizard. Of course I let them think so, because they were afraid of me, and promised to do anything I wished them to. Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace; and they did it all willingly and well. Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green." 
"But isn't everything here green?" asked Dorothy. 
"No more than in any other city," replied Oz; "but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you." 
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
 
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