A CENTURY OF AMERICAN PROTEST
Throughout the first century of American democracy petitions flooded the Congress from individuals and groups championing a specific cause, demanding relief, or requesting assistance. The first amendment to the Constitution had expressly provided the right to petition the Congress for the redress of grievances, and citizen petitioning emerged as a democratic tradition during the nineteenth century.
In 1894, Jacob Coxey, a successful businessman in Massillon Ohio, decided to take the right to petition a step further; or more literally, three hundred and fifty miles further. He organized a march from Massillon Ohio to Washington D.C.as a way of symbolizing to Congress the importance of the petition he sought to have heard. Thus this very first "March to Washington," Coxey's "petition of boots," called on Congress to establish a $500 million "Good Roads" program. Though the march was foiled on the steps of the Capitol, Coxey's rag tag army had set an important precedent for the way organized protest could occur.
Today this form of protest has become almost routine. Hardly a month passes without some sort of organized protest march occurring in the streets of our nation's capital. Today, these marches are no longer viewed as the threats they were when Coxey's Army approached Washington or when Walter Water's Bonus Army camped near the Capitol itself. Certainly, when Pierre L'Enfant laid out the broad promenade of Pennsylvana Avenue almost a century before Coxey marched, the French city planner was envisioning a continuation of the tradition of protest parades that had accompanied political dissent in European capitals.
In her insightful and comprehensive history of marches that ensued after Coxey, Lucy G. Barber provides the foundation of research for this web survey of six of the most important marches of the last century. As Barber concludes: "Marches on Washington have transformed the capital from the exclusive domain of politicians and officials into a national stage for American citizens to participate directly in national politics." This web site explores six of the most important marches. The site was developed by Jerry Prout, a Ph.D student in history at George Mason University in Fairfax Virginia. For information or comment write firstname.lastname@example.org.