Joseph Gurney Cannon

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Joseph Gurney Cannon (May 7, 1836-November 12, 1926) was a United States politician who served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1903 through 1911.

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Joseph Cannon at the 1904 Republican Convention

Early life

He was born in Guilford, Guilford County, North Carolina, moved with his parents to Bloomingdale, Indiana, in 1840. The oldest of two sons to a country doctor, his father drowned when Cannon was ten trying to reach a sick patient by crossing a flooded river. He became the sole support of the family farm.

At age 19 he traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend a semester of law school. Thereafter, Cannon learned the law by running errands and being tutored over poker games for a county judge and reading law books.

Finding little business, he moved to Danville, Illinois by the late 1850s.

He was admitted to the bar in 1858 and commenced practice in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1858, he moved to Tuscola, Illinois, in 1859 he was State's attorney for the twenty-seventh judicial district of Illinois from March 1861 to December 1868.

Political career

He became a follower of Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. After Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Cannon received an appointment as a regional prosecutor.

Cannon, a member of the Republican Party, was elected as to the United States House of Representatives from Illinois to the Forty-third and to the eight succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1873-March 3, 1891), and was the chairman, Committee on Expenditures in the Post Office Department (Forty-seventh Congress), Committee on Appropriations (Fifty-first Congress).

He moved to Danville, Illinois, in 1878, and was unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1890 to the Fifty-second Congress, but was elected to the Fifty-third and to the nine succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1893-March 3, 1913).

He attempted to gain the Speakership four times before succeeding. His antic speaking style, diminutive stature and pugnacious manner were his trade marks. The newspapers frequently lampooned him as a colorful rube.

"Uncle Joe" as he was known often clashed with fellow Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who Cannon remarked had "no more use for the Constitution than a tomcat has for a marriage license".

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U.S. Congresman Joseph Gurney Cannon, smoking a cigar, 1920.

Joseph was chairman to the Committee on Appropriations (Fifty-fourth through Fifty-seventh Congresses), Committee on Rules (Fifty-eighth through Sixty-first Congresses), and Speaker of the House of Representatives (Fifty-eighth through Sixty-first Congresses). He received fifty-eight votes for the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention at Chicago in 1908.

In 1910 a political revolt in the House by both Democrats and dissatisfied Republicans stripped the Speaker of some of the great powers he hitherto wielded there, such as heading the House Rules Committee and ability to appoint members of other House committees.

Cannon was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1912 to the Sixty-third Congress, but was elected to the Sixty-fourth and to the three succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1915-March 3, 1923).

He was a fierce critic of President Woodrow Wilson and US entry into World War I. He was also an outspoken critic of Wilson's League of Nations.

Cannon declined renomination for Congress at the end of the Sixty-seventh Congress and retired from public life.

Joseph Cannon died in Danville, Vermilion County, Illinois, with an interment in Spring Hill Cemetery.

His autobiography, Uncle Joe Cannon, was published the year after his death.

The first building of offices for congressmen outside of the United States Capitol building was named after Cannon.


Preceded by:
David B. Henderson
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
November 9, 1903March 3, 1905;
December 4, 1905March 3, 1907;
December 2, 1907March 3, 1909;
March 15, 1909March 3, 1911
Succeeded by:
Champ Clark

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