One of the things I've always enjoyed about collecting commemorative coins and medals is that they almost always spark in me a desire to learn more about the subject being celebrated. The subject of this post is one such spark...
When I came across a reference to a proposed half-dollar intended to honor Joseph Gurney Cannon, I was at a loss. I didn't recall ever hearing mention of the man or his accomplishments, and was thus intrigued by the story of what it was about him that prompted a proposal for a US coin in his honor. Here's a very brief overview of his life.
Joseph Gurney Cannon was born in Guilford County, North Carolina but moved as a young child with his family to Indiana. He studied law at the Cincinnati Law School and passed the bar in 1858. He briefly practiced law in Indiana before moving to Illinois in 1859. He served as the State's attorney for more than seven years in Illinois, and then was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1873 as a Republican.
Cannon served 23 non-consecutive terms in the House, with his last being as a member of the 67th Congress which adjourned in March 1923. Overall, he was a US Representative for more than 40 years. During that time, he served as the Speaker of the House for more than seven years between November 1903 and March 1911.
He is remembered for being a very influential politician and Republican party leader, along with being one of the strongest, most controlling Speakers to ever hold the position. He retired from public service after the 76th Congress in 1923 and died just three years later in Danville, IL in 1926.
The bill for a coin in his honor called for up to 2 million silver 50-cent pieces to be struck "at the mints of the United States" with the Uncle Joe Cannon Memorial Association of Danville, IL serving as the sponsor of the issue. Monies raised from the sale of the coins were to go toward perpetuating the memory of Speaker Cannon.
The bill did not gain the necessary support, however, and never made it out of the House Coinage, Weights and Measures Committee. Cannon was not the only Speaker of the House to be the subject of a US commemorative coin proposal, but the others are a story for another day.
While he was not the subject of a US Mint coin or medal, Mr. Cannon's memory is today honored in Washington, DC via the Cannon House Office Building which was named in his honor.
You can learn more about "Uncle Joe" here: http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/10600