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C H A P T E R T W O The Good Roads Plan “With the Good Roads Plan of $500,000,000 to provide the machinery whereby all the unemployed,skilled and unskilled,may be put to work.”1 J. S. Coxey, Good Roads Association A S T H E Y B E G A N TO make their plans for the march to Washington, Coxey and Browne faced seemingly insurmountable practical and political obstacles. Coxey’s Good Roads plan not only defied conventional notions of what governments should do to help the jobless , but in order to draw attention to his solution, he would now be publicly parading “the idle tramp,” the very object of that public scorn. No wonder, then, that the two companions, working side by side, constantly sought to distinguish how their army would consist of proud men seeking honest work, clearly distinguishable from the stereotypical tramp.“We want patriots , not bummers,”Browne affirmed. Coxey also declared that they were not recruiting idle tramps. One Boston Globe reporter obligingly acknowledged that the men who joined the march were not “Huns and Slavs, and densely ignorant.” Rather, they were typical skilled workers simply in need of work. Yet, in the lead-up to the departure and beyond, most newspapers would refer to“Coxey’s tramp army.”2 Coxey not only sought to defend his marchers with his words, but he sought to dignify the march by the very way in which it presented itself. He discouraged the sick and those of ill repute from joining. He emphasized that the journey would be a test and that all who joined would face rough conditions. Adopting the individualistic ethos that defined an America on the make, those joining would be expected “with true American grit, to grin and bear it.” Coxey succeeded in recruiting an assemblage that was far from the popular stereotype of tramps as unskilled laborers, immigrants, and anarchists. Rather, most were either American- or English-born skilled workers representing some seventy different trades. Few indicated any allegiance to a union. Most of the men were married and had some formal The Good Roads Plan 25 schooling. One analysis suggested that most were skilled tradesmen who would depart the march for a job if one were offered.3 Shirley Plumer Austin’s account in the popular Chautauquan magazine provided detailed character sketches of several of the marchers. Almost three-quarters of those he surveyed were skilled workmen who were simply put out of work by the Panic. Austin described an eclectic band of diverse marchers representing mostly out-of-work industrialists with minds of their own. For example, A. H. Blinn was described as a thirty-year-old married man, well dressed and intelligent looking, an iron molder and a member of the National Federation of Labor. He actually belonged to the Republican Party, seemed“disgusted” with Browne’s Theosophy, and reportedly kept his distance from Coxey. Dan Thompson, a former racetrack employee, professed to not know very much at all about Coxey’s proposals or Browne’s “religious stuff.” But he seemed to be enjoying the camaraderie, noting “I am having a whale of a time with the outfit.” Charles Smith, a Pittsburgh wire drawer locked out of work since Christmas 1893, needed to support his wife and six children. He believed in Coxey’s ideas and thought they would lead to full employment. Frank Ball seemed to Austin to be a man of some means. He had worked on Mississippi steamers and, like Coxey, had become attracted to Browne’s ideas when he heard him speak on the Chicago waterfront the summer before.“I had been idle ten weeks before the Army started,” he said. Though he voted Democratic, he believed a great political change was about to happen. “I am a Socialist and I want to see complete government ownership—that’s the only way of saying the people’s ownership.”4 TheTramp Stereotype Nonetheless,Coxey and Browne faced an enormous challenge in presenting these jobless marchers as no different in their essential humanity from those with a job. In the late nineteenth century the presence of the wandering unemployed often provoked severe reactions. In Anderson, Indiana, on March 29, 1889, the city’s marshal ordered eight “tramps” to leave the town’s only train station. Outside, thirty men armed with poles and barrel staves formed a gauntlet along the railroad track. As the New York Times reported,“The tramps were forced to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781609091972
Related ISBN
9780875804989
MARC Record
OCLC
1017611811
Pages
160
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Language
English
Open Access
No
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