are fighting a system, and that system is the system that enables
the Speaker, by the power vested in him, to thwart and overthrow
the will of the majority membership of this House.
Oscar Underwood, March 19, 1910
movement was a reaction to the industrial and urban growth of the
nation during the late 19th century. It attempted to loosen the
hold of political machines and political corruption on state and
local government operations and policies. When the Progressives
turned their attentions to national policies, the halls of Congress
became an important arena for the introduction of reforms. Their
program included economic regulation, limits on child labor, and
pure food and drugs. But their goals also included breaking up strongholds
of power within Congress and expanding the power of voters in U.S.
One of the
events that signaled the triumph of Progressivism on the national
stage was the revolt against House Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois
in 1910 by a coalition of Republican Progressives and Democrats.
While personally popular, Speaker Cannon had become a symbol of
conservative or stand-pat political forces, utilizing his great
powers to obstruct the Progressive programs of President Theodore
Roosevelt and of legislators such as Senator Robert La Follette
of Wisconsin. The revolt against Cannon also represented the end
of a brief but recurring House experiment in centralizing powers
within the Speakership.