Commonweal Army.in the summer of 1892 began a distressing series of events which widened into all departments of American industry, blasting the fruits of labor and indicating in the industrial society of the United States the existence of profound and dangerous vices. In June of that year the managers of the great iron works at Homestead, a short distance from Pittsburgh, Pa., apprehending a strike of their operatives on account of a reduction of wages, declared a lockout and closed the establishment. The operatives, deeming themselves wronged, assumed a threatening attitude and the trouble increased until the Pennsylvania National Guard to the number of 8,500 was called out by proclamation of the governor, and on July 12 a military occupation was established. This was maintained for several weeks and the restoration of order was extremely difficult.
About the same time the miners of the Coeur d'Alene region in far-off Idaho rose against a body of non-union workingmen, who had been introduced into the mines, killed several and drove away the remaining ones. Railroad bridges and other property were destroyed and a reign of terror was established. It was not until July 17 that military rule prevailed over the rioters, whose leaders were arrested and imprisoned.
A short time thereafter scenes of violence were enacted at Buffalo, N. Y., on account of a strike of the switchmen of the Erie & Lehigh Valley railway. When an attempt was made to coerce the strikers they attacked the loaded freight trains standing on the sidetracks and burned the cars by hundreds. On Aug. 18 the whole National Guard of New York was summoned to the scene and the strikers were finally overawed and dispersed.
In the spring of 1893 came the precipitation and intensifying of the financial panic and universal prostration of business, the parallel of which had never before been witnessed in our country. The industrial depression, the discontent and suffering of the people, led to the most alarming consequences. Strikes and lockouts became the order of the day. Business failures resounded through the land like the falling of a forest. Commerce virtually ceased. In the latter part of April, 1894, some 130,000 miners stopped work and were joined immediately afterward by fully 25,000 others. Nearly all the coke plants in western Pennsylvania were closed. Meanwhile, the discontented people began to show their desires and passions in a way never hitherto displayed in the United States. Those who had been thrown out of employment began to combine, without knowing why, into what was known as the army of the Commonweal. One such army, under the leadership of Jacob S. Coxey of Massillon, Ohio, marched on Washington City, to demand employment from the national government. Another band came on from the far West, under the leadership of their so-called "Gen. Kelley." Railway cars were appropriated here and there for transportation. Collisions occurred between divisions of the army and various bodies of troops. On May 30, 1894, these men of the Commonweal made a demonstration on the steps of the capitol at Washington. The authorities of the District of Columbia, on the alert for some excuse, found the leaders of the army on the capitol grounds in a place forbidden. Coxey and Carl Brown were arrested for trespassing, convicted and imprisoned. Throughout the summer of 1894 these strange movements of the under men of the United States continued. Serious disturbances occurred among the miners in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois and Kansas. In many places the state militia was called out and petty fights occurred. At Cripple creek, Col., a great riot took place, prominent citizens being seized and held for some time as hostages.
The hard times of 1893 affected Kansas in common with other states. Several prominent banks failed and numerous business concerns were forced to suspend. Many workingmen were thrown out of employment, and some of them became recruits to the "Army," with the intention of marching to Washington and demanding a redress of grievances. A detachment of this industrial army, under "Gen. Sanders," was brought to Topeka by officers of the law. The men were charged with the capture of a railroad train and cited to appear for trial before the United States court at Leavenworth.Pages 395-396 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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