In 1922, Joseph G. (“Uncle Joe”) Cannon reflected on his historical legacy by commenting
A hundred years from now people will say it does appear that there was a man from Illinois by the name of Cannon, but I don’t know much about him.
The Vermilion County Board has the opportunity to refresh the memory of its constituents as to who Joseph G. Cannon was, and give substance to the slogan “where progress meets history,” by naming the new Vermilion County Administrative Building in honor of the man who procured it for the County, Joseph Gurney Cannon.
On March 4, 1923, Time Magazine, placed the profile of Cannon on the cover of its first volume, issue number one, on the first day of his retirement after forty-six years of service in the United States House of Representatives. On March 4, 2023, the Centennial of that retirement, Vermilion County has the opportunity to honor a person who not only gave the majority of his life to government service, but also occupied the highest legislative office under the U. S. Constitution, Speaker of the House of Representatives. Time’s observations on Cannon’s retirement included the following:
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 Hana, when ‘a little group of willful men’ did more than make gestures of government; they actually ruled Congress, shrewdly, impregnably, and without too much rhetoric.
In 1890, Cannon, while Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, obtained legislation requiring the federal district and circuit courts to hold at least one term annually in Danville, Illinois. By adding Danville to the authorized sites for holding federal court, Congress opined that Vermilion County, with its growing population and 5 railroads “is in line with the policy adopted by Congress, of bringing United States courts as near as possible to the residents of litigants.” As Cannon prepared to leave Washington, D. C. in the Spring of 1891, having lost reelection in 1890, House members, both Democrats and Republicans, rewarded Cannon, who had never sought any federal “pork” for his hometown, with a new post office that included rooms for the federal courts. Cannon was returned to Congress in 1892, and the federal building authorized in 1891 opened in 1893,serving as a post office and a federal court building until 1911.
In 1905, Congress created a new federal district court in Illinois, designating it as the Eastern District of Illinois, and retained Speaker Cannon’s hometown of Danville as a site for holding its district and circuit court terms at least twice a year.
By 1908, while Cannon was serving as House Speaker, the facilities in Danville’s 1893 federal building were deemed inadequate to handle the increased mail volume. A similar problem existed in the federal court facilities. Congress authorized the construction of a new post office with federal court facilities large enough to handle the increased mail volume and federal litigation.
When the new courthouse was authorized in 1908, its addition to Danville brought the following observation:
Danville should congratulate itself over the new government building. . .for the retention of the home of the United States courts here was a matter of vital importance to the city, and without the new building and the help of a strong man in congress like Speaker Cannon, Danville’s place on the map in this regard would be in jeopardy.
The federal building opened in 1911 and served as the federal district court, with the federal bankruptcy court added at a later date, until the federal district court was removed to Urbana and the bankruptcy court ceased holding hearings in Danville.
Danville and Vermilion County served as the site of the federal district court for over 100 years. During those years, thousands of lawyers and litigants came to Danville in pursuit of their claims and provided substantial business to Danville and Vermilion County in the process.
The acquisition of the 1911 federal building by Vermilion County for use in administering county government would please Cannon, a career legislator, who admitted he “was interested in the business of government, not in the trimmings.”
But for the power and influence of Joseph G. Cannon, the county’s Administrative Building, at 201 N. Vermilion, would not exist. The naming of the building in honor of Joseph G. Cannon would acknowledge his contribution in obtaining the building in
Vermilion County, as well as his role in American history.