He was born in Waseca, Minnesota. He attended the public schools and Sacred Heart Academy in his native city. He graduated from the law department of Creighton University with an LL.B. in 1913 and was admitted to the bar the same year and commenced practice in Omaha, Nebraska.
He was elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-eighth and to the sixteen succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1943 - January 3, 1977). While in Congress, he served as a co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Organization of Congress (Eighty-ninth and Ninetieth Congresses), and chairman of the Committee on Rules (Ninety-third and Ninety-fourth Congresses). He was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1976 to the Ninety-fifth Congress.
On September 18, 1951, the United States House of Representatives established the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence, and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, known as the Madden Committee after its chairman. The purpose was to determine which nation was responsible for the atrocities and whether any American officials had engaged in covering up the massacre.
The committee ruled unanimously that the Soviet Union was responsible for the executions, recommending a trial before the International World Court of Justice. The question of an American cover-up was more complicated. On this issue, the committee concluded that American officials failed to properly evaluate and act upon Russian behavior evident as early as 1942. The committee also determined that American policy toward the Soviet Union might have been different if information had not been deliberately withheld from the public.