TIME magazine recently marked its 90th birthday by reprinting the March 3, 1923, cover of Volume 1, Number 1. It’s a portrait of U.S. Rep. Joseph G. “Uncle Joe” Cannon, R-Danville.
Cannon, 86, was retiring after a record 46 years in Congress. He had served as House speaker from 1903-11. The Cannon House Office Building in Washington was named after him, as were Cannon School, Cannon Park and Cannon Street.
“He feels he has earned the right to spend the rest of his life in the quiet seclusion of Danville, Ill.,” TIME wrote. “ … He represents the Old Guard in the very flower of its maturity.”
TIME recalled Speaker Cannon’s iron-fisted rule over House committees, debate and legislation. His mastery of partisan politics and parliamentary procedure stifled reform and Big Government for years.
“Never did a man employ the office of Speaker with less regard to its theoretical impartiality,” TIME wrote. “To Uncle Joe, the speakership was a gift from heaven, immaculately born into the Constitution by the will of the fathers for the divine purpose of perpetuating the dictatorship of the Republican Party and he followed the divine call with a resolute evangelism that was no mere voice crying in the wilderness, but a voice that forbade anybody else to cry out — out of turn.”
Cannon died in Danville on Nov. 12, 1926, at age 90.
In February 1913, 10 years before TIME was launched, more than 500 people attended a testimonial dinner to Cannon at the Raleigh Hotel in Washington. Cannon had been defeated for re-election in November 1912 and planned to retire.
The menu included turtle soup, Chesapeake bass, filet of beef, potato croquettes, stuffed royal squab and Roman punch. The addresses were recorded in a 106-page hardcover book titled “Dinner to Cannon — 1913.”
Guests included the Republican president, the Democratic speaker of the House, the chief justice and associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, senators, representatives, generals, admirals, and other dignitaries.
They were all there, the account says, “to drink one toast with the heartiness of admirers and true lovers — (to) Uncle Joe, the true friend, the sturdy patriot, the fearless and practical legislator.”
Of Cannon, President William Howard Taft said: “He says he is going away and not coming back. I hope that is not true, and I do not believe it is true. I think that when he goes out to that district and walks up and down Vermilion County, and finds how many people are sorry they did not vote for him at this last election, the old warrior will again scent the battle from afar, and he will come here again to be with those who are here, to show them again the old traditions of the Republican Party when it was in power and in usefulness.”
Cannon replied: “As manly men we make our contests as God gives us to see the right, and we are endorsed or fail of endorsement from time to time, as the case may be … The new generation comes, and if they do not learn through their brain they will learn through their stomach, or through both brain and stomach, and all things will end well.
“Thank God, I have been an optimist all my life, and I shall remain an optimist to the end.”
Uncle Joe returned to Congress, victorious, two years later.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.