Progressive Reform:
Speaker Cannon

We 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.”

Representative Oscar Underwood, March 19, 1910

The Progressive 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. politics.

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.