"Teddy Roosevelt has no more use for the Constitution than a tomcat has for a marriage license." - Uncle Joe Cannon.
Joseph Gurney Cannon (R-Danville) represented Vermilion, Coles, Douglas, and surrounding east central Illinois counties in Congress for a total of forty-six of the fifty years between 1873 and 1923. He was out of office only four years after two defeats in 1890 and again in 1912. He was the first of three members of Congress from Illinois who were elected to the office of Speaker of the House. Cannon served eight years as Speaker from March 1903 to 1911. The other two speakers from Illinois were Henry T. Rainey (D-Carrollton) from 1933 to 1934 and J. Dennis Hastert (R-Yorkville) from 1999 to the present time.
Joe Cannon was born in Guilford County, North Carolina on May 7, 1836 and moved with his parents to Bloomingdale, Indiana in 1840. He studied law at the Cincinnati Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1858 in Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1858 Cannon moved to Tuscola, Illinois in Douglas County where he lived in a modest house at the corner of Parke and Pembrooke Streets. It was there in 1862 that he married Mary P. Reed. Joe and his brother William Cannon founded the Second National Bank of Tuscola. He became a supporter of Abraham Lincoln in his 1858 race for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Stephen A. Douglas (D-Jacksonville).
Cannon became State’s attorney Douglas and Coles Counties from March 1861 to December 1868 and was first elected as a Republican to Congress in 1873. He moved to Danville in 1878. He served at different times as chairman Committee on Expenditures in the Post Office Department, and as chair of the Committee on Appropriations. He also served as Chairman of the Committee on Rules before he was elected Speaker in 1903. He was nominated for president as an Illinois favorite son at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1908 and received 58 votes. But William Howard Taft was the choice of that convention.
Cannon was controversial as Speaker for his autocratic ways and he kept up a steady feud with President Teddy Roosevelt while he was Speaker even though both were Republicans. Cannon had the same powers as previous speakers to appoint committees and control the flow of legislation. But he used those powers to the maximum advantage of the majority of stand pat or Old Guard Republicans. He both chaired and appointed all the members of the Rules Committee. Cannon was accused by progressives of that era of abusing the powers of his office to stop their legislation and the Teddy Roosevelt agenda. This was one of several times that the rules of the House and the powers of the Speaker would be widely debated.
Cannon for his part saw himself as a protector of the Constitution and the perogatives of the legislative branch as a check on the power of the presidency. Both Cannon and Roosevelt viewed the other as power hungry. Both may have been right. Eventually in 1910 a combination of younger Republican members and Democrats staged a rebellion against the rules and procedures of the House as administered by Cannon. The rebels did not have the votes to remove Cannon as Speaker but they did curtail some of his autocratic powers. They used a procedure to change the rules of the House so that the Speaker could not sit on the Rules Committee and all ten members, six from the majority and four from the minority, would be elected by all the members of the House from that time on. More importantly, the reforms meant that the Rules Committee would elect its own Chairman.
Joe Cannon declined renomination for Congress in 1922 and retired from public life at age 86. He died in Danville, on Nov. 12, 1926 at the age of 90 and is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Danville. Thirty-six years after his death, the original House Office Building across the street from the U.S. Capitol was named in honor of Joe Cannon in 1962. The other two House office buildings were named for Congressman Nicholas Longworth (R-Ohio) who served as Speaker from 1925 to 1930 and for Congressman Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) who served as Speaker for 18 years between 1940 and 1961.