|Joseph Gurney Cannon (R.-Ill.) circa 1920, after being
toppled as House Speaker, voted out of Congress,
then elected to return.
I have bent your ears many times about Joseph G. Cannon (R.-Ill.), the legendary, autocratic Speaker of the House who ultimately was stripped of power in a dramatic House floor revolt back in 1910. (See “Uncle Joe” Cannon, November 10, 2010.) Cannon was such a towering figure that Congress ultimately decided to name its signature building after him, the Cannon House Office Building, today one of the most familiar landmarks in Washington, D.C.
|Cannon on the cover of Time Magazine, 1923.
This past week, the painful, sometimes-humiliating spectacle of our modern Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ill.), trying to corral his divided Republicans, including over 80 freshman “Tea Party” members, in the high-stakes confrontation over raising the federal debt ceiling, has once again put Joe Cannon in the news. Commentators as diverse as Doris Kearns Goodwin (CNN), Norman Ornstein (New York Times Book Review) and Jeffrey Lord (American Spectator) all have invoked Cannon’s name in analyzing Boehner and modern Capitol Hill.
Were we better off in the old days when Capitol Hill oligarchs like Cannon could twist arms and intimidate Congressmen into swallowing a deal they didn’t like — in contrast to Boehner’s repeated last week frustrations with his Tea Party faction? Did those old days ever really exist at all?
Joe Cannon truly is the ghost haunting Capitol Hill this summer. Cannon — everyone from president to shoe shine boy called him “Uncle Joe” — presided as Speaker from 1903 to 1911, the height of Theodore Roosevelt’s era. When he left Congress in March 1923, he had served almost fifty years and been elected twenty-two times, a record back then. Time Magazine that month put his face on the cover of its first-ever edition. Tall, lanky, and outgoing, always a cigar in his teeth, quick with a smart off-color joke, a back-slapping poker player, Cannon received 58 votes for president of the United States at the 1908 Republican Convention and had his picture on two different brands of chewing tobacco.
|Washington Star front-page cartoon the morning after
Cannon is stripped of powers.