Joseph G. Cannon's
Sarah L. Eiben
Joseph G. Cannon moved to the small, east-central Illinois town of Tuscola in 1858. He did so purely because of bad luck. He was on his way from Shelbyville, Illinois, to Chicago to find more clients for his law firm when he ran out of money. He boarded a Chicago-bound train in Mattoon. After the train was underway, he was asked for his ticket. Because Cannon did not have a ticket, he was removed from the train in Tuscola. This was Cannon's introduction to the town that would be his home until 1876.
While living in Tuscola, "Uncle Joe," as he came to be known, married Mary P. Reed in 1862. Cannon and his wife lived in a modest home on the corner of Parke and Pembroke streets, where they raised two daughters.
Not only did Cannon begin his family life while in Tuscola, but he also began a life of public service. After living in Tuscola for only two years, Cannon became a member of the Common Council. Cannon, his brother William, and another partner founded the Second National Bank of Tuscola. By 1861 Cannon was well known and respected throughout the community and was elected State's
Attorney for Douglas and Coles counties. He held that position from 1861 to 1868.
Cannon had an important case while serving as State's Attorney. He was called to Charleston, Illinois, to handle a case involving Sarah Bush Lincoln, Lincoln's stepmother. Sarah Bush Lincoln was accused of stealing a piece of cloth from a local store. Cannon asked Mrs. Lincoln what had happened. After Mrs. Lincoln explained that she had simply taken a piece of cloth home to see if it matched a piece she already had—a common practice in those days, Cannon met with the judge and convinced him to drop the charges.
Though Cannon moved from Tuscola to Danville in 1876, Tuscola remained an influence in his life. While living in Danville, Cannon was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Using his knowledge and his analytical and persuasive skills he had employed in his personal, professional, and public life in Tuscola, Cannon rose to the prominent position of Speaker of the House, a position he held from 1903 to 1910.
While Cannon was campaigning for reelection in 1908, trouble brewed. Henry C. Bell, the Democratic candidate for Cannon's seat, accused Cannon of opposing a bill to establish prohibition and claimed Cannon was a drunkard who also profited from the sale of alcohol in his hometown of Danville. Those charges caused organizations such as the Illinois Anti-Saloon League, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and various churches to oppose Cannon in his bid for reelection. In his defense Cannon made use of his experiences in Tuscola. Cannon pointed out that Tuscola had been a "dry" town when he lived there and that he sat as a member of the Tuscola Common Council for two years without trying to rescind the temperance ordinance. He went on to say that his real objection to the bill in question was that it was unlawful and that if it was passed the courts would not allow it to be enforced.
Cannon's recollection from Tuscola helped quiet the opposition, and he went on to win reelection. He continued to serve in the House of Representatives until he retired in 1923 and returned to his Danville home. Cannon died in his Vermilion Street home in Danville in 1926 at the age of ninety.—[From Blair Bolles, Tyrant from Illinois; "Illinois Choice for President," The Tuscola Daily Journal; Melissa Merlie, "Capital building bears local man's name, but who was he?" The News Gazette May 23, 1991; Busbey L. White, Uncle Joe Cannon.]