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The 1st March On Washington

Updated on November 30, 2009
The First March On Washington
The First March On Washington

The First March Is Not When You Think It Was

Everyone is familiar with the picture of Martin Luther King Jr., giving the I Have A Dream Speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in 1963. However, many would be surprised that the march of hundreds of thousands on Washington to protest was not originated with the march of 1963. The first official march on Washington took place in 1894 to protest high unemployment and the financial panic of 1893.

The Financial Panic Of 1893 Was Caused By The Railroad Bubble
The Financial Panic Of 1893 Was Caused By The Railroad Bubble
President Grover Cleveland Did What Was Expected: Nothing
President Grover Cleveland Did What Was Expected: Nothing

The Financial Panic of 1893

The 1880s were a time of financial expansion and growth of individual wealth in the United States. Similar to the tech and housing bubbles of today’s economy, the strength of the economy in the 1880s was railroads. However, as the 1880s drew to a close, the railroads had been overbuilt and were guilty of shady financing to build even more. Because of the bad financing, banks around the Country began to fail. Depositors began pulling their money out of banks. To further the trouble, investors began selling off gold and silver.

By the second inauguration of Grover Cleveland, one of the nation’s biggest railroads had filed for bankruptcy and official a financial panic had begun. An estimated 17 to 19 percent of the work force was unemployed. President Cleveland however believed that the executive branch’s only role was to enforce the Constitution and refused to intervene. Cleveland’s philosophy was the most popular view of the executive branch at the time.

Jacob Coxey: The Leader Of The March On Washington
Jacob Coxey: The Leader Of The March On Washington
6000 Unemployed Men Converged On Washington In 1894
6000 Unemployed Men Converged On Washington In 1894

Coxey’s Army

In March 1894, thousands of the unemployed Americans workers organized a march on the Capital to lobby for the government to create jobs with public works projects. The March on Washington was led by a man named Jacob Coxey. Coxey was a populist leader who had run for Congress in 1885 as a member of the Greenback Party.

The March began with 100 men in Massillon, Ohio. It went through Pittsburgh on its way to Washington. Another group came from Maryland. Together, the two groups consinsted of 6000 men. They reached Washington on April 30.

The day after the March, Coxey and other leaders were arrested for walking on the Capital Grounds. Coxey was relentless though and led a similar March on Washington in 1914.

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz Has A The Same Populist Message As Coxey's Army
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz Has A The Same Populist Message As Coxey's Army
President William McKinley Is Thought To Be The Influence Of The Wizard Of Oz
President William McKinley Is Thought To Be The Influence Of The Wizard Of Oz

Coxey’s Army and The Wizard of Oz.

While Coxey’s March on Washington did not change much in terms in politics, it did influence much in popular culture.  In the crowd observing Coxey’s Army March on Washington was L. Frank Baum, who would later gain fame for his book, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The book, when looked at with the First March on Washington as a historical background, contains many political interpretations. 

 

In the book, there is the scarecrow, who represents the American Farmer.  There is the tin man, who represents the American Industrial Worker.  And there is the cowardly lion, who represents a cowardly politician, most likely William Jennings Byran..  All are on their way to the see the Wizard of Oz, who in the book is described to resemble William McKinley.  They are on their way to the city of Oz, which represents Washington D.C..

 

In the book, Dorothy’s magic shoes are not red, but silver.  The silver represents the populist desire to see the United States move to a silver rather than a gold standard.  To make the shoes more pleasing in the movie, the color was changed to red. 

 

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    • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

      bgpappa 

      8 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for the comment

    • RK Sangha profile image

      RK Sangha 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks for information, a good hub.

    • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

      bgpappa 

      9 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for the comment.

      They were workers looking for jobs, not handouts. Not everyone seeks handouts and not everyone gets things from Mommy and Daddy.

    • profile image

      Jason 

      9 years ago

      So a bunch of people marched on Washington to have the government take money from other people to give to them. At least a common criminal doesn't send government to do their dirty work.

      If things get 'really' tough, people can find a way to survive other than taking from others.

    • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

      bgpappa 

      9 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks. I never read that much into the movie either but after learning about this it made a lot of sense. Thanks for reading.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      This is a fantastic piece!  I just love it!  I never knew who those "Wizard of Oz" characters represented.  Thanks very much for the learning experience.

    • bgpappa profile imageAUTHOR

      bgpappa 

      9 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for the comment. I found it interesting that the same markers that caused the same financial crisis has happened before. Over building and bad loans. History does repeat itself.

    • profile image

      pgrundy 

      9 years ago

      This is an excellent hub. I am going to refer every Libertarian who tells me (again) that the gold standard solves everything and there were no financial crises before the Fed was created by the evil cabal of secret evil cabal types that run it... Did I mention the Fed is an evil cabal? Anyway I'm referring all of them to this hub in the future. Thanks for writing this.

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