Clarence Cannon: Master Parliamentarian and Budget Hawk

Clarence Cannon - Wikipedia

The state of Missouri has produced some interesting characters as a state, but its most lasting was Clarence Cannon (1879-1964), whose parliamentary knowledge of Congress was second to none and who served from 1923 to 1964.

Cannon started work in Washington for Speaker of the House Champ Clark, where he familiarized himself with legislative rules and procedure and in 1917 he became House parliamentarian. Although the Republicans won Congress in 1918, Cannon was so good at his job they retained him. By 1919 he had written a book on the subject, A Synopsis of the Procedure of the House. Cannon subsequently wrote Procedure in the House of Representatives (1920) and Cannon’s Precedents of the House of Representatives (1936).  So knowledgeable he was that he was the designated parliamentarian of every Democratic National Convention from 1920 to 1960. Clark lost reelection in 1920 and died only two days before his term was to end. Such a departure left the door open for Cannon to begin his political career. In 1922, he won back his old boss’s seat, ousting Republican Theodore Hukriede by 13 points. Cannon was a loyal Democrat and exceedingly popular with his constituents, but one who would not refrain from exercising independence when he felt it right, especially on matters of one of his specialties: the budget.

Although he supported a lot of the New Deal and actively defended public ownership of power generating facilities, Cannon was averse to high spending (at least outside of agriculture) and frequently backed budget cuts, whether presidents of either party wanted them or not. He secured his place of power in Washington when in 1941 he became the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a post he would hold for all but four years of the rest of his life. In this post, Cannon even initially even blocked funding for the Manhattan Project as overly costly, until he was briefed on its merits, after which he approved. Cannon could also be pugnacious and got into conflicts with some members. In 1933, fellow Missouri Democrat Milton Romjue slapped Cannon in the face during an argument and he responded by slugging him, giving him a black eye. In 1945, he socked his Republican counterpart, John Taber of New York, during an argument in the bathroom. He didn’t fall short on rhetorical conflict either, in 1947 he lampooned Rep. Frank B. Keefe (R-Wis.) in a debate on the floor of the House, “Of all the ‘piddlin’ politicians that ever piddled ‘piddlin’ politics on this floor, my esteemed friend, the gentleman from Wisconsin, is the greatest piddler that ever piddled” (Masonry Today). In the early 1960s Cannon also got into a bitter feud with elderly Senator Carl Hayden (D-Ariz.) on matters of parliamentary procedure. He even applied his nature when writing to the former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who in response to her 1964 letter thanking him for his work for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, stating that “I know the fight was not easy”, wrote “You say the fight was not easy, but on the contrary, we had cooperation from everyone. It was done practically by acclamation” (Masonry Today).  

On civil rights, Cannon had a mostly positive record. Although he voted against anti-lynching legislation in 1937 and 1940, he backed nearly all subsequent civil rights measures, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cannon also voted for Powell Amendments that would have cut off education funding for segregated schools, even though he was from a state that until Brown v. Board of Education (1954) had de jure segregated schools.

Cannon proved a thorn in the side of the Eisenhower Administration with his aversion to increased foreign aid spending and having as his right-hand on the matter Otto Passman, a Louisiana Democrat who was a known foe of most foreign aid measures and had even opposed the Marshall Plan. Despite his increasingly frequent dissents in later years and many sources labeling him a “conservative”, he still proved a strong supporter of certain New Deal fundamentals, including a strong minimum wage and public power.  Also, his MC-Index life score is a 27%, with his highest score being achieved in the 86th Congress, when he scored a 55%. In 1962, although Cannon had supported much of President Kennedy’s New Frontier legislation, he denounced the 87th Congress as the first hundred-billion-dollar Congress to the consternation of the Democratic leadership. He also proved a staunch opponent of funding NASA, denouncing it as a “moondoggle” (Masonry Today). Although Cannon had planned to run for reelection in 1964, his health couldn’t hold out and on May 11th he suffered nausea and was diagnosed in the hospital with heart failure. He died the next day at the age of 85. Such an institution Cannon was at the end of his career, that President Lyndon B. Johnson and former President Harry S. Truman attended his funeral.


Clarence Andrew Cannon Passes Away. Masonry Today.

Retrieved from

Henry, C. The Man Who Brought Two Presidents to Town. Elsberry Historical.

Retrieved from

THE ECONOMY: Cut that BUDGET! (1957, March 4). TIME Magazine.

Retrieved from,33009,862441-1,00.html

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