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Joseph Gurney Cannon, by Freeman Thorp, 1904

Joseph Cannon, by Freeman Thorp, 1904

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

Joseph Gurney Cannon, by Freeman Thorp, 1904

Reining in the Speaker, 1910

Many members of Congress believe that fewer laws are better. "The country don't need any legislation," was the way the colorful Joseph G. Cannon, Republican of Illinois, put it. Elected Speaker in 1903, "Uncle Joe" Cannon was among the more conservative House members. He wielded his power to stop President Theodore Roosevelt's crusade to regulate business and land use.

As conservative members retired or lost elections, however, Cannon's base of support gradually eroded. Conservative Republican control of the chamber became vulnerable to an alliance of Progressive Republicans and Democrats. In 1910, Nebraska's George W. Norris, one of the Progressive reformers, proposed new rules to curb the Speaker's power—igniting two days of nearly continuous debate. The Progressive–Democrat coalition prevailed, and many hailed Norris's resolution as a return to democracy in the House.

"The country don’t need any legislation."
— Speaker Joseph G. Cannon