Joseph Gurney Cannon Papers, 1879-1940


Joseph Gurney Cannon Papers, 1879-1940


Cannon, Joseph Gurney (1836-1926)


Papers, 1879-1940 [1906-1910]


4.2 linear feet (10 manuscript boxes + 27 bound volumes)


Danville, Illinois lawyer who served as congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives for 46 years between 1873 and 1923, was elected Speaker of the House from 1903-1911, and ran for the nomination of president at the Republican National Convention in 1908.


Cannon was born in Guilford, North Carolina, the son of Dr. Horace Cannon and Gulielma Hollingsworth Cannon, his wife.  The Cannons were Quakers and in 1840 they moved to Annapolis, Indiana, a Quaker settlement where Joseph attended a Quaker school.  In 1851 Dr. Cannon was drowned in Sugar Creek while trying to cross it on horseback during flood season in order to treat a patient.  Joseph went to work in a pottery in Annapolis and this is when he began to smoke cigars, which became an ever present part of his countenance.  In later years, political cartoonists always drew him with a cigar in his mouth.  While working as a clerk in a store he met John F. Usher, a lawyer, and after watching him try a case, Cannon decided he wanted to be a lawyer.  Usher agreed to let him read the law under him and work as a clerk in his office.  Usher eventually insisted that Cannon attend a law school in Cincinnati.  He did for six months until his money was gone, but long enough to get a diploma.  Usher advised him to move to Illinois which was going to grow due to the railroad.  After attempting to set up practice in Shelbyville, with little luck, he moved on to Tuscola.  He worked the circuit and got to know other lawyers and the people of the area, for whom a favorite topic of conversation was always politics and Abraham Lincoln.  He had been in Tuscola only two years when, at the age of twenty-four, he was elected state’s attorney.  He was very involved in politics and was a true supporter of Lincoln, since he felt that Lincoln represented all of the virtues he had learned to be important at his mother’s knee.  Especially important was his stand against slavery, since Quakers were strong abolitionists.


In 1862 he married Mary Reed, from Ohiowho had come to Illinoisto live with her brother and teach school.  She was not a Quaker and Cannon would not admit to the church his fault in marrying a Methodist, thus he was expelled from the Society of Friends.  Joseph’s brother, William, came to live with him and read the law.  After he passed the bar, being more interested in business than law, he opened a bank with Joseph as partner.  They eventually moved the bank to Danville. 


The excitement of politics stayed with Joseph and in 1872 he decided to run for congress and won.  His first assignment was on the Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads.  Cannon was strongly conservative and during his years in the House, he became quite powerful.  He was not afraid of a fight.  He was so vocal in his opposition to Samuel Gompers, that President Roosevelt asked him to stop, so the public would not think Republicans anti-labor.  He also spoke out against another labor leader, John H. Walker.  He became very good friends with Tom Reed, who was elected Speaker in 1889 and appointed Cannon chairman of the Appropriations Committee.  He also continued to monitor the state political happenings and was interested in the 1907 Illinois reform law (Oglesby Bill) and the political careers of Richard Yates, Jr., Len Small and Charles Deneen.  During the years 1903-1911, Cannon exercised such control over the procedures in the House that his actions were referred to as “Cannonism”.   In 1907, the Stevens Bill which placed wood pulp on the duty free list and in 1909 the Payne Tariff Bill brought “Cannonism” into a battle.  In the fight over wood pulp, Herman Ridder, the president of the American Newspaper Publishers Association,


                                                                        Joseph G. Cannon                                    Page 2


told Cannon that if he supported the bill, the newspapers would make him president and if he didn’t he would lose his speakership and political career.  Cannon, so the story goes, threw him out.  But a big battle ensued, where “Uncle Joe”, as he was generally known, used his power to fight the bill.  With the Payne Tariff bill, a group of insurgent Republicans, angry with what they perceived as

Cannon’s tyranny joined the Democrats to fight against Cannon and the bill.  Cannon won both of these battles, but he lost the Speaker position in 1912.  From 1915-1919 he served as a member of the Lincoln Memorial Commission.  He continued on in Congress through 1922, when he retired at the age of eighty-six.  He and his wife had two daughters, Mabel and Helen.  Mary, or Molly as Cannon called her, died in 1899.  Mabel was married to Ernest LeSeure of Danville, and president of the First National Bank there.  He looked after Cannon’s financial affairs.  Helen never married but was a graduate of Wellesley and traveled extensively in Europe.  She took care of his home and social duties during his tenure as Speaker.  She also gave him advice, which he took very seriously, on who to trust and who not to trust.  When he retired they returned toDanville, where “Uncle Joe” died in 1926.


Correspondence, speeches, notes, minutes, news clippings, autobiographical fragments, copies of congressional records, and scrapbooks.  The majority of the papers are from the years, 1906-1910, or the years spent as Speaker.  Nine letters are from Theodore Roosevelt concerning currency legislation, labor policy, tariff problems with Germany, and immigration.  The Sept. 17, 1906 letter discusses Cannon’s attacks on Samuel Gompers.  The correspondence of 1907-1908 deals mostly with national political matters but there is considerable discussion of state matters, specifically the Oglesby Bill.  The political aspirations of Charles Deneen, Len Small and Richard Yates are discussed in several letters.  Cannon’s letter of Oct. 13, 1910 to President Taft discusses the political strengths and ambitions of Deneen and Small.  There are many letters concerning the Stevens Bill and the Payne Bill.  Correspondents include: Wharton Baker, Henry S. Boutell, John H. Campbell, Joseph H. Choate, Champ Clark, Shelby Cullom, Charles C. Dawes, Charles Deneen, William F. Draper, Hamilton Fish, Stuyvesant Fish, Joseph W. Fordney, David J. Foster, Charles F. Fuller, Joseph V. Graff, Charles H. Grosvenor, J. A. Hemenway, Ebenezer J. Hill, A. J. Hopkins, John A. Hull, C. P. Huntington, Richard Lloyd Jones, Wesley L. Jones, J. Warren Keifer, Henry A. King, Robert M. LaFollette, George P. Lawrence, Charles E. Littlefield, Charles I. Long, William Lormimer, Frank O. Lowden, Frank P. MacLennan, Robert R. McCormick, William B. McKinley, William E. Mason, John Morley Morehead, Raymond Patterson, James Breck Perkins, Llewellyn Powers, Thomas B. Reed. Elihu Root, James S. Sherman, Len Small, James A. Tawney, John W. Walker, John W. Weeks, and Harry C. Woodyard.  Copies of speeches given by Cannon, with notes concerning them.  Minutes of Lincoln Commission meetings.  Fragments of writings on his autobiography.  News clippings pertaining to his political career and family.  Scrapbooks contain mostly clippings and broadsides pertaining to his career.  Folders from 1911-1925 contain mostly Cannon’s published congressional record.


Access: Open for research


Acc. No:  P.A. 1940


Processed by: Paul Spence                                                                                          CSB/Jan. 2002


                                                Joseph G. Cannon                                    Page 3

Container List


Box     Folder


1          1          Correspondence, 1879-1899

            2          Correspondence, 1900-1902

            3          Correspondence, 1903

            4          Correspondence, 1904

            5          Correspondence, 1905

            6          Correspondence, January-March 1906

            7          Correspondence, April-June 1906

            8          Correspondence, July 1906

            9          Correspondence, August 1906

            10        Correspondence, September-October 1906

            11        Correspondence, November-December 1906


2          1          Correspondence, January 1907

            2          Correspondence, February-April 1907

            3          Correspondence, May 1907

            4          Correspondence, June 1907

            5          Correspondence, July 1907

            6          Correspondence, August 1907

            7          Correspondence, September 1907

            8          Correspondence, October 1907

            9          Correspondence, November 1907

            10        Correspondence, December 1-15, 1907

            11        Correspondence, December 16-31, 1907


3          1          Correspondence, January 1-15, 1908

            2          Correspondence, January 16-31, 1908

            3          Correspondence, February 1908

            4          Correspondence, March 1-10, 1908

            5          Correspondence, March 11-20, 1908

            6          Correspondence, March 21-31, 1908

            7          Correspondence, April 1-10, 1908

            8          Correspondence, April 11-21, 1908

            9          Correspondence, April 22-30, 1908


4          1          Correspondence, May 1-4, 1908

            2          Correspondence, May 5-6, 1908        

            3          Correspondence, May 7-14, 1908

            4          Correspondence, May 15-31, 1908

            5          Correspondence, June 1908

            6          Correspondence, July 1908

            7          Correspondence, August 1-15, 1908

            8          Correspondence, August 6-31, 1908

            9          Correspondence, September 1-10, 1908

            10        Correspondence, September 11-20, 1908

                                                Joseph G. Cannon                                    Page 4

Container List


Box     Folder


4          11        Correspondence, September 21-30, 1908


5          1          Correspondence, October 1-10, 1908

            2          Correspondence, October 11-21, 1908

            3          Correspondence, October 22-31, 1908

            4          Correspondence, November 1-15, 1908

            5          Correspondence, November 16-30, 1908

            6          Correspondence, December 1908

            7          Correspondence, No Month 1908

            8          Correspondence, January 1909

            9          Correspondence, February 1909

            10        Correspondence, March 1-15, 1909

            11        Correspondence, March 16-31, 1909

            12        Correspondence, April-May 1909


6          1          Correspondence, June 1909

            2          Correspondence, July 1909

            3          Correspondence, August 1909

            4          Correspondence, September 1-18, 1909

            5          Correspondence, September 19-30, 1909

            6          Correspondence, October 1-15, 1909

            7          Correspondence, October 16-31, 1909

            8          Correspondence, November 1-15, 1909

            9          Correspondence, November 20-30, 1909

            10        Correspondence, December 1-15, 1909

            11        Correspondence, December 16-31, 1909


7          1          Correspondence, January 1-15, 1910

            2          Correspondence, January 16-31, 1910

            3          Correspondence, February 1910

            4          Correspondence, March 1-17, 1910

            5          Correspondence, March 18-20, 1910

            6          Correspondence, March 21-31, 1910

            7          Correspondence, April 1-15, 1910

            8          Correspondence, April 16-30, 1910

            9          Correspondence, May 1910

            10        Correspondence, June-July 1910

            11        Correspondence, August 1910


8          1          Correspondence, September 1910

            2          Correspondence, October 1910

            3          Correspondence, November-December 1910

            4          Correspondence, No Month 1910

            5          Correspondence, January 1911

                                                Joseph G. Cannon                                    Page 5

Container List


Box     Folder


8          6          Correspondence, February 1911

            7          Correspondence, March-April 1911

            8          Correspondence, May-June 1911

            9          Correspondence, July-September 1911

            10        Correspondence, December 1911

            11        Correspondence, January 1912

            12        Correspondence, February-March 1912

            13        Correspondence, April 1912


9          1          Correspondence, May 1912

            2          Correspondence, June 1-14, 1912

            3          Correspondence, June 15-30, 1912

            4          Correspondence, July 1912

            5          Correspondence, August 1-14, 1912

            6          Correspondence, August 15-31, 1912

            7          Correspondence, September-December 1912

            8          Correspondence, January-December 1913

            9          Correspondence, 1916

            10        Correspondence, 1917

            11        Correspondence, 1918

            12        Correspondence, 1919


10        1          Correspondence, January-May 1920

            2          Correspondence, June-December 1920

            3          Correspondence, 1921

            4          Correspondence, 1922-1925, 1940

            5          Speeches, no date

            6          Campaign Tour of Hon. Joseph G. Cannon and Party, September 15-November 3, 1904

            7          Autobiographical Fragment (rough draft)

            8          Autobiographical Fragment (duplicate of material in rough draft, typed)

            9          Clippings, no date

            10        Miscellany, no date


Oversize Bound Volumes


      BV 1         Scrapbook, 1884-1902

      BV 2         Scrapbook, 1890 and 1891

      BV 3         Scrapbook, 1900-1902

      BV 4         Scrapbook, 1902-1903

      BV 5         Scrapbook, 1902-1903

      BV 6         Scrapbook, 1903-1905

      BV 7         Scrapbook, 1904

      BV 6         Scrapbook, 1903-1905

      BV 7         Scrapbook, 1904

                                                 Joseph G. Cannon                                    Page 6

Container List


Oversize Bound Volumes


      BV 8         Scrapbook, June-August 1904

      BV 9         Scrapbook, 1904-1912

      BV 10       Scrapbook, 1905-1906

      BV 11       Scrapbook, 1905-1906

      BV 12       Scrapbook, 1906-1907

      BV 13       Scrapbook, 1906-1907

      BV 14       Scrapbook, 1906-1909

      BV 15       Scrapbook, 1907

      BV 16       Scrapbook, 1908

      BV 17       Scrapbook, 1908

      BV 18       Scrapbook, 1908-1909

      BV 19       Scrapbook, 1908-1909

      BV 20       Scrapbook, 1909

      BV 21       Scrapbook, 1909

      BV 22       Scrapbook, 1909

      BV 23       Scrapbook, 1919-1910

      BV 24       Scrapbook, 1910

      BV 25       Scrapbook, 1910, 1912-1913

      BV 26       Scrapbook, 1911

      BV 27       Scrapbook, 1911-1912















“Joseph Gurney Cannon Papers, 1879-1940,” Chronicling Illinois, accessed March 19, 2019,