Philander C. Knox

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Philander Chase Knox
Philander C Know-H&E.jpg
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1917 – October 12, 1921
Preceded by George Oliver
Succeeded by William Crow
In office
June 10, 1904 – March 4, 1909
Preceded by Matthew Quay
Succeeded by George Oliver
40th United States Secretary of State
In office
March 6, 1909 – March 5, 1913
President William Howard Taft
Preceded by Robert Bacon
Succeeded by William Jennings Bryan
44th United States Attorney General
In office
April 5, 1901 – June 30, 1904
President William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
Preceded by John Griggs
Succeeded by William Moody
Personal details
Born (1853-05-06)May 6, 1853
Brownsville, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died October 12, 1921(1921-10-12) (aged 68)
Washington, DC, U.S.
Political party Republican
Alma mater West Virginia University
Mount Union College
Profession Lawyer, Politician

Philander Chase Knox (May 6, 1853 – October 12, 1921) was an American lawyer, bank director and politician who served as United States Attorney General (1901–1904), a Senator from Pennsylvania (1904–1909, 1917–1921) and Secretary of State (1909–1913). He served in the Cabinet under three presidents.

Active in law in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the partnership known as Knox and Reed, Knox was also one of several founders of the city of Monessen in the state, where a street is named for him. With the industrialists Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon, he was a director of the Pittsburgh National Bank of Commerce, and also was a director of another leading Pittsburgh bank.

Early life, education, and marriage[edit]

Knox's house in Brownsville

Knox was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, one of nine children of Rebecca (Page) and David S. Knox.[1] His father was a banker and his mother was active in philanthropic and social organizations. He went to private primary and secondary schools attended by children of the affluent.

Knox attended Mount Union College, where he graduated in 1872 with a bachelor of arts degree. While there, he formed a lifelong friendship with William McKinley, the future U.S. President, who at the time was a local district attorney. Knox attended the West Virginia University College of Law, graduating in 1875.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1880, Knox married Lillie Smith, the daughter of Andrew Smith and his wife. Her father was a partner in a steel company known as Smith, Sutton and Co. The company eventually became a part of Crucible Steel. Knox and his wife had several children, including Hugh Knox.

His extended relatives include a nephew, "Billy" Knox.

Legal career[edit]

Knox was admitted to the bar in 1875 and practiced in Pittsburgh. From 1876 to 1877 he was Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Knox became a leading Pittsburgh attorney in partnership with James Hay Reed, their firm being Knox and Reed (now Reed Smith LLP). In 1897 Knox became President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Along with Jesse H. Lippencott, a fellow member of an elite hunting club (see South Fork below), Knox served as a director of the Fifth National Bank of Pittsburgh. With Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon, he was a director of the Pittsburgh National Bank of Commerce.

As counsel for the Carnegie Steel Company, Knox took a prominent part in organizing the United States Steel Corporation in 1901.

Social organizations[edit]

Knox was a member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, which had a clubhouse upriver of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It maintained an earthen dam for a lake by the club, which was stocked for fishing. The dam failed in May 1889, causing the Johnstown Flood and severe losses of life and property downriver. When word of the dam's failure was telegraphed to Pittsburgh, Frick and other members of the South Fork Club gathered to form the Pittsburgh Relief Committee for assistance to the flood victims. They decided together to refrain from speaking publicly about the club or the flood. This strategy was a success, and Knox and Reed were able to fend off all lawsuits that would have placed blame upon the Club’s members.[citation needed]

Knox was also a member of the elite Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh.


Knox's nickname was “Sleepy Phil,” as he was said to have dozed off during board meetings, or because he was cross-eyed.

Political career[edit]

U.S. Attorney General[edit]

In 1901 Knox was appointed as US Attorney General by President William McKinley and was re-appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt. He served until 1904. While serving President Roosevelt, Knox worked hard to implement the concept of Dollar Diplomacy.

He said to Roosevelt: "Mister President, do not let so great an achievement suffer from any taint of legality," made in regard to the construction of the Panama Canal.[citation needed]

U.S. Senator[edit]

In June 1904, Knox was appointed by Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker of Pennsylvania to fill the unexpired term of the late Matthew S. Quay in the United States Senate.

In 1905, he was elected by the state legislature to fill the remainder of the full term for the US Senate seat (to 1909).

Knox made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican Party nomination in the 1908 U.S. presidential election.

U.S. Secretary of State[edit]

In February 1909, President William Howard Taft nominated Senator Knox to be Secretary of State.[2] He was at first found to be constitutionally ineligible, because Congress had increased the salary for the post during his Senate term, thus violating the Ineligibility Clause.[3] In particular, Knox had been elected to serve the term from March 4, 1905, to March 4, 1911. During debate on legislation approved on February 26, 1907, as well as debate beginning on March 4, 1908, he had consistently supported pay raises for the Cabinet, which were eventually instituted for the 1908 fiscal calendar.[3][4] The discovery of the constitutional complication came as a surprise after President-elect Taft had announced his intention to nominate Knox.[3]

The Senate Judiciary Committee proposed the remedy of resetting the salary to its pre-service level, and the Senate passed it unanimously on February 11, 1909.[4] Members of the U.S. House of Representatives mounted more opposition to the relief measure and defeated it once. After a special procedural rule was applied, the measure was passed by a 173–115 vote.[5] On March 4, 1909, the salary of the Secretary of State position was reverted from $12,000 to $8,000, and Knox took office on March 6.[3][4] Later known as the "Saxbe fix", such legislation has been passed in a number of similar circumstances.

Knox served as Secretary of State in Taft's cabinet until March 5, 1913. As Secretary of State, he reorganized the Department on a divisional basis, extended the merit system to the Diplomatic Service up to the grade of chief of mission, pursued a policy of encouraging and protecting American investments abroad, declared the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, and accomplished the settlement of controversies related to activities in the Bering Sea and the North Atlantic fisheries.

Interventionism in Nicaragua[edit]

In his book The Shark and the Sardines, historian Juan Jose Arevalo noted:

From April 1908 the United States kept, off the coasts of Nicaragua on the Atlantic, a squadron made up of the cruisers Washington, Colorado, South Dakota, and Albany, and other smaller units, with a total contingent of four thousand men. These men--better said, their officers--had instructions to take advantage of the first opportunity to intimidate the arrogant and uncooperative president. In the city of Bluefields, overlooking the squadron, there was a State Department representative with precise orders about the situation: Consul Thomas Moffat.

This professor of psychology, in that chapter of psychology that could be called the "Sewers of Psychology" or the "Psychology of the Sewers" found some Nicaraguans who were making talk about country and freedom--men who were enemies of Zelaya and admirers of Wall Street. Consul Moffat, professor of mathematics in the chapter of mathematics applying to gastronomy--that is, the chapter limited to giving the ciphers for eating today, for eating tomorrow and for eating day after tomorrow--made the first dollars drop into the limp pocketbooks of the men opposed to Zelaya and was thus able to prove that psychology and mathematics have a common root. In the same way, he was able to prove that in the consciences of certain men, the sentiment of patriotism vibrates at the same wave length as a one-hundred dollar bill and that the two are woven into the same emotions regarding the future, progress and freedom.

Such Nicaraguan "patriots" were willing to do anything, just in order to be able to govern Nicaragua and administer the affairs of Nicaragua, i.e., to be the ones to carry out the buying and selling transactions. The most important one on the team was Adolfo Diaz, empty-headed as a drum, who was employed at a salary of eighty dollars a month, as bookkeeper in the La Luz and Los Angeles Mining Company. Another of the leaders was Emiliano Chamorro, surly, disagreeable member of the Conservative Party, an opponent of no civic feeling and no moral standards other than his ambition.

These two negotiated the complicity and treason of Nicaragua's military governor on the Atlantic Coast--General Juan José Estrada, to whom the Presidency or administration of the country was offered as reward. With these three "patriots" at the head of Zelaya's enemies, the Yankee squadron believed they could spare themselves the physical unpleasantness of a landing operation. The Nicaraguans would "settle the problem for themselves." Of course, those Nicaraguans were authorized to use--and did use--the Stars and Stripes.

When the rebel action began on October 10, 1909, Adolfo Diaz contributed six hundred thousand dollars. . . . On September 9, 1912, Estrada confessed to THE NEW YORK TIMES the origin of this money: he had been given a million dollars by the Yankee companies located in Nicaragua; two hundred thousand dollars from the firm of Joseph Beers and one hundred fifty thousand dollars from Samuel Weil.

Ships of the United Fruit Company carried men and ammunition for the "liberators." Between the big oceangoing cruisers and the shore, two little warships moved about, lending service as "intelligence"--the Dubuque and the Paducah.

Two Yankee citizens were taken prisoner for exploding a dynamite bomb just as the Nicaraguan military transport was coming down the San Juan River. After they confessed, these two foreign delinquents were shot by a firing squad. Their execution provided a glorious new pretext for the men who were acting in the State Department's farce. They expelled Zelaya's diplomatic representative from Washington, and they declared diplomatic relations severed with the legitimate government of Nicaragua. Mister Knox, Secretary of State and legal adviser to the Fletcher family, who, by pure coincidence, were owners of mineral exploitations in Nicaragua (among them La Luz and Los Angeles Mining Company) said in the expulsion note:

The government of the United States is convinced that the ideals and the will of the majority of the Nicaraguans are represented by the present revolution more faithfully than by the government of President Zelaya.


US sets up base of operations in Nicaragua[edit]

Officers of Zelaya's government executed some captured rebels; two United States mercenaries were among them, and the U.S. government declared their execution grounds for a diplomatic break between the countries which later led to formal intervention. At the start of December, United States Marines landed in Nicaragua's Bluefields port, supposedly to create a neutral zone to protect foreign lives and property but which also acted as a base of operations for the anti-Zelayan rebels. On 17 December 1909, Zelaya turned over power to José Madriz and fled to Spain. Madriz called for continued struggle against the mercenaries, but in August 1910 diplomat Thomas Dawson obtained the withdrawal of Madriz. Thereafter the U.S. called for a constituent assembly to write a constitution for Nicaragua and the vacant presidency was filled by a series of Conservative politicians including Adolfo Diaz. The U.S. Marines remained stationed in Nicaragua until 1932, with one brief withdrawal in 1925. They also supervised several Nicaraguan elections during, this time, though through free trade and loans, the U.S. exercised strong control over the country.

Return to the Senate[edit]

Following his term of office, Knox resumed the practice of law in Pittsburgh.

In 1916, Knox was elected by popular vote to the Senate from Pennsylvania for the first time, after passage of the Seventeenth Amendment providing for such popular elections. He served from 1917 until his death in 1921.

A candidate for the Republican nomination in the 1920 U.S. Presidential election, Knox was handily defeated at the convention.

In April 1921 he introduced a Senate resolution to bring a formal end to American involvement in World War I. It was combined with a similar House resolution to create the Knox–Porter Resolution, signed by President Warren G. Harding on July 2.[7]

Knox died in Washington, D.C. later that year.


  1. ^ Demmler, Ralph H (1977). "Knox & Reed; Reed, Smith, Shaw & Beal; Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay", p. 7
  2. ^ 43 Congressional Record 2390-403 (1909).
  3. ^ a b c d "Knox Seems Barred From the Cabinet". The New York Times. 1909-02-10. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  4. ^ a b c "Knox Relief Bill Passes in Senate" (PDF). The New York Times. 1909-02-12. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  5. ^ "Way Clear For Knox to Enter Cabinet" (PDF). The New York Times. 1909-02-16. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  6. ^ The Shark and the Sardines by Juan Jose Averalo; L Stuart, 1961.
  7. ^ Staff (July 3, 1921). "HARDING ENDS WAR; SIGNS PEACE DECREE AT SENATOR'S HOME. Thirty Persons Witness Momentous Act in Frelinghuysen Living Room at Raritan.". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Bacon
U.S. Secretary of State
Served under: William Howard Taft

Succeeded by
William Jennings Bryan
United States Senate
Preceded by
George Oliver
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Boies Penrose
Succeeded by
William Crow
Preceded by
Matthew Quay
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Boies Penrose
Succeeded by
George Oliver
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Griggs
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt

Succeeded by
William Moody
Party political offices
Preceded by
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
(Class 1)

Succeeded by
David Reed
Notes and references
1. In the 1904 election, Knox was elected by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The 1916 election marked the first time that Class 1 Senators were elected through popular vote.