National Affairs: Uncle Joe

2 minute read

Joseph Gurney Cannon, grand old man of Congress, will retire from public life. At the age of 86, having served 23 terms in the House of Representatives, he feels that he has earned the right to spend the rest of his life in the quiet seclusion of Danville, Illinois. Uncle Joe is something more than a politician with an age-record. He is the embodiment of a tradition, a political theory, a technique of party government and discipline that is fast perishing. He represents the Old Guard in the very flower of its maturity, in the palmy days of McKinley and Mark Hanna, when “a little group of wilful men” did more than make gestures of government; they actually ruled Congress, shrewdly, impregnably, and without too much rhetoric.

Uncle Joe in those days was Speaker of the House and supreme dictator of the Old Guard. Never did a man employ the office of Speaker with less regard for its theoretical impartiality. 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 standpatters in 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.

On March 4 Uncle Joe will be gone and Henry Cabot Lodge alone will remain to carry on the banner of the ideal. To the American people, however, the senior Senator from Massachusetts must perforce seem a little too genteel, too cold, too Back Bay to serve as an adequate trustee for the Old Guard tradition. They will long for the homely democracy of Mr. Cannon, so often expressed by those homely democratic symbols—Uncle Joe’s black cigar and thumping quid.

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