John Jay Knox Jr.

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John Jay Knox (1828-1892), photographed by Mathew Brady

John Jay Knox Jr. (March 19, 1828 – February 9, 1892) was an American financier and government official. He is best remembered as a primary author of the Coinage Act of 1873, which discontinued the use of the silver dollar.

Knox was Comptroller of the Currency from 1872 to 1884. An advocate of uniform currency for the national banks of the country, his portrait was featured on the obverse of the $100 United States national bank notes of the Series of 1902.


Early years[edit]

John Jay Knox Jr. was born March 19, 1828, in Knoxboro, New York, today a part of the city of Augusta. His father, James J. Knox Sr., was a prominent merchant and bank president and was himself the namesake of Knoxboro.[1]

The younger Knox was well educated and attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, from which he graduated in 1849.[1] Upon graduation he went to work for his father in his bank, working there as a teller for two years before moving to a bank in Syracuse, New York, where he worked for four more years.[1] Knox gained experience and authority in a series of further jobs in the banking industry which followed, including stops in Binghamton, New York, Norfolk, Virginia.[1]

Private banker[edit]

In 1857, shortly before Minnesota was admitted to the United States, Knox and his brother, Henry M. Knox, launched their own banking house in the city of St. Paul.[2] John Jay Knox would remain with that firm for six years.[1]

Knox was an advocate of the system of national banks proposed by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase and contributed ideas to the national bank debate, advocating safe and convertible notes of a uniform type for all national banks, backed by the guarantee of government bonds.[2] He authored two influential articles on the matter, published in Hunt's Merchants' Magazine in 1861 and 1862, which gained the notice of Secretary Chase.[2] Chase would bring Knox into the service of the Treasury Department in 1863.[1]

Government career[edit]

John Jay Knox's portrait was featured on the $100 National Bank Notes of the series of 1902.

Working in the Treasury Department throughout the closing years of the American Civil War, in 1866 Knox was put in charge of the Mint and Coinage Correspondence for that department.[2] He authored a report on the San Francisco Mint in 1866 and later in that same year discovered a $1.1 million misappropriation of funds in a similar report on the activities of the New Orleans Mint — the largest such misappropriation in US government history up to that time.[2]

Knox was made Deputy Comptroller of the Currency in 1867. In that capacity in April 1870, Knox prepared a 100-page report codifying the mint and coinage laws of the United States.[1] This was followed in June 1870 with another report of similar length, collecting the views of mint employees and financial experts and providing for legislation to eliminate the silver dollar from circulation.[1] Knox's proposal was passed into law after a few amendments as the Coinage Act of 1873 — an event which triggered a rapid fall in the price of silver and which ushered in an era of bitter currency debate which dominated the political landscape for the better part of three decades.[1]

President Ulysses S. Grant promoted Knox to Comptroller of the Currency in 1872.[3] He was reappointed to a second 5-year term by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, and to a third term by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882.[3]

On May 1, 1884, Knox resigned his post in order to become president of the National Bank of the Republic in New York City. At the time of his resignation he had served 17 years in the Comptroller's office as part of almost 22 years in the Treasury Department, making him the longest serving officer in that department.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

Knox died at his home in New York City on February 9, 1892. He was 63 years old at the time of his death.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "John Jay Knox," National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Volume 3. New York: James T. White & Co., 1893; pg. 15.
  2. ^ a b c d e George G. Evans (ed.), Illustrated History of the United States Mint, with a Complete Description of American Coinage... Philadelphia: George G. Evans, 1888; pg. 95.
  3. ^ a b c "John Jay Knox," National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Vol. 3, pg. 16.


Political offices
Preceded by
Hiland R. Hulburd
Comptroller of the Currency
Succeeded by
Henry W. Cannon