Joseph Gurney Cannon

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Joseph Gurney Cannon (May 7, 1836November 12, 1926) was an American politician from Illinois and leader of the Republican Party. Cannon served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1903 to 1911, and historians generally consider him to be the most dominant Speaker in United States history, with such control over the House that he could often control debate.


  • I would rather quit public life at seventy, and quit it forever, than to retain public life at a sacrifice to my own self-respect. I will not vote for any law which will make fair for me and foul for another. The blacklist is the most cruel form of oppression ever devised by man for the infliction of suffering upon his weaker fellows.
    • Speech opposing the Pearre Injunction Bill (1906); reported in L. White Busby, Uncle Joe Cannon (1927), p. 278. Cannon noted that Samuel Gompers blacklisted him for opposing the legislation. Cannon expanded this passage in a speech in Lewiston, Maine (September 5, 1906), while successfully campaigning for Representative Charles Littlefield, to counter efforts of Gompers and his labor forces to defeat Littlefield, referring to "any law which will make fish of one and fowl of another," reported in Joseph G. Cannon papers, box 1, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Illinois.
  • Nearly all legislation is the result of compromise.
    • Maxim quoted in a tribute to Cannon on his retirement, reported in The Sun, Baltimore, Maryland (March 4, 1923); Congressional Record (March 4, 1923), vol. 64, p. 5714.
  • In the last analysis sound judgment will prevail.
    • Maxim quoted in a tribute to Cannon on his retirement, The Sun, Baltimore, Maryland (March 4, 1923); Congressional Record (March 4, 1923), vol. 64, p. 5714.
  • The House of Representatives, in some respects, I think, is the most peculiar assemblage in the world, and only a man who has had long experience there can fully know its idiosyncrasies. It is true we engage in fierce combat, we are often intense partisans, sometimes we are unfair, not infrequently unjust, brutal at times, and yet I venture to say that, taken as a whole, the House is sound at heart; nowhere else will you find such a ready appreciation of merit and character, in few gatherings of equal size is there so little jealousy and envy.
    The House must be considerate of the feelings of its Members; there is a certain courtesy that has to be observed; a man may be voted a bore or shunned as a pest, and yet he must be accorded the rights to which he is entitled by virtue of being a representative of the people. On the other hand, a man may be universally popular, a good fellow, amusing and yet with these engaging qualities never get far. The men who have led the House, whose names have become a splendid tradition to their successors, have gained prominence not through luck or by mere accident. They have had ability, at least in some degree; but more than that, they have had character.
    • Quoted in L. White Busby, Uncle Joe Cannon: The Story of a Pioneer American (1937), p. 260
  • Not one cent for scenery.
    • Said in opposition to federal funding of conservation efforts; reported in Blair Bolles, Tyrant from Illinois (1951), p. 119.
  • In legislation we all do a lot of swapping tobacco across the lines.
    • Referring to a practice during the Civil War, quoted in a tribute to Cannon on his retirement; reported in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).


  • Mr. Cannon has told how he put through an appropriation for the entertainment of Prince Henry of Prussia when that foreign visitor came over years ago. He prearranged with Oscar W. Underwood, then in the House, that he would propose the appropriation late in the afternoon, when the House attendance was slim. Mr. Underwood, representing objecting Democrats, was to kick strenuously for a time about the cost of entertaining the prince; then Underwood was reluctantly to withdraw his opposition, the chances being no other Democrat would take it up. The 'Swapping of tobacco' across the aisles worked and the appropriation went through.
    • Reported in The Sun, Baltimore, Maryland (March 4, 1923); Congressional Record (March 4, 1923), vol. 64, p. 5714.

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