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Knox, Philander Chase

KNOX, PHILANDER CHASE

Philander Chase Knox was a corporate attorney, industrialist, and two-time U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. He served as U.S. attorney general under President william mckinley from 1901 to 1904, and as U.S. secretary of state under President william howard taft from 1909 to 1913.

Knox was born to privilege on May 6, 1853, in Brownsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. His banker father, David S. Knox, financed commercial activities in the region around Pittsburgh. His mother, Rebekah Page Knox, was involved in numerous philanthropic and social organizations, and she encouraged her children in community service pursuits.

Knox's early education was in local private schools with the children of other prominent Pennsylvania families. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Mount Union College, in Alliance, Ohio, in 1872. While in college Knox began a lifelong friendship with future president McKinley, who was then district attorney of Stark County, Ohio. McKinley encouraged the young man's interest in the law, and arranged for him to read law in the office of Attorney H. B. Swope, of Pittsburgh.

After spending three years with Swope, Knox was admitted to Pennsylvania's Allegheny County bar in 1875. Shortly thereafter he was appointed assistant U.S. district attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Two years later he formed a law partnership with James H. Reed, of Pittsburgh, that would last more than twenty years. In 1880 he formed an equally lasting marital partnership with Lillie Smith, daughter of Pittsburgh businessman Andrew D. Smith.

"The consciousness of possessing a giant's strength is a sufficient preventive against the tyranny of using it as a giant."
—Philander Knox

Knox's professional skills and personal style were well suited to the business climate of his

day. He was intimately involved in the industrial development of the Pittsburgh region as well as the organization and direction of the companies forging that development. His efforts made him one of the wealthiest men in Pennsylvania.

Knox, along with many of his business and social peers, was a charter member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, on Lake Conemaugh, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The club erected a dam to create its private lake retreat. When the dam failed on May 31, 1889, an ensuing flood killed more than two thousand people and destroyed countless homes and businesses in its path. Author David McCullough noted in his history The Johnstown Flood that no money was ever collected from the club or its members through damage suits. But Knox's family contributed to the relief efforts, and Knox and other businessmen used their resources to help rebuild many of the companies and restore many of the jobs lost in the cataclysm.

By 1897 Knox had sufficiently redeemed himself to be elected president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. In 1899 his longtime friend President McKinley offered him the position of attorney general of the United States. Knox declined McKinley's initial offer because he was heavily involved in the formation and organization of the Carnegie Steel Company, so the position went to john w. griggs.

When Griggs resigned in 1901, McKinley again offered the position to Knox. This time Knox accepted. He began his term on April 9, 1901. Within the year he brought an antitrust action against the Northern Securities Company, through which James J. Hill, John Pierpont Morgan, and others had attempted to merge the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, and the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy railroads. Knox guided the litigation through several appeals and made the winning argument before the U.S. Supreme Court (Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197, 24 S. Ct. 436, 48 L. Ed. 679 [1904]).

Later in 1901 he ruled against executive authority—and his own preferences—when he advised that game refuges in the national forests could be established only through legislation. He told President McKinley that he regretted having to make that decision: "I would be glad to find authority for the intervention by the Secretary [of Interior] for the preservation of what is left of the game … but it would seem that whatever is done in that direction must be done by Congress, which alone has the power" (Baker 1992, 405).

Knox stayed on as attorney general under President theodore roosevelt. In 1902 he traveled to Paris to examine the title to a canal concession across the Isthmus of Panama. Knox validated a French company's questionable title (in a three hundred-page opinion) and opened the way for the United States to purchase the company's interests. The incident is often cited as an example of the law being manipulated by presidential prerogative. Knox reportedly said afterward that Roosevelt's plan to acquire the canal concession was not marred by the slightest taint of legality.

His service as attorney general ended June 10, 1904, when Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker, of Pennsylvania, appointed him to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Matthew S. Quay. Knox took Quay's seat in the U.S. Senate July 1, 1904, and was subsequently elected to a full six-year term. During his term he was active and influential, especially in railroad rate legislation. He served on the Judiciary Committee, took a prominent part in a debate over tolls for the Panama Canal, and for a time was chairman of the Senate committee on rules.

He resigned his Senate seat March 4, 1909, to accept President Taft's appointment as secretary of state. Under Taft the focus of foreign policy was the encouragement and protection of U.S. investments abroad. Taft's approach, often called dollar diplomacy, was first applied in 1909, in a failed attempt to help China assume ownership of the Manchurian railways. Tangible proof of Knox's efforts in this attempt can be seen today in Washington, D.C.: the Chinese government gave him two thousand cherry trees that still blossom each spring. More successful attempts at dollar diplomacy were eventually made in Nicaragua and the Caribbean.

In March 1913 Knox returned to the practice of law. He did not last long. Just three years later, he announced his intention to seek a second term in the U.S. Senate. He was elected November 6, 1916. He was an outspoken opponent of the league of nations, and he took a leading role in the successful fight against the ratification of the treaty of versailles at the close of world war i because, he said, it imposed "obligations upon the United States which under our Constitution cannot be imposed by the treaty-making power."

On October 12, 1921, Knox collapsed and died outside his Senate chamber in Washington, D.C. He was sixty-eight years old. He was buried near his home at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

further readings

Baker, Nancy V. 1992. Conflicting Loyalties: Law and Politics in the Attorney General's Office, 1789–1990. Lawrence, Kans.: Univ. Press of Kansas.

Dictionary of American Biography. "Philander Chase Knox." 1928–1936. In Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. V, Hibben-Larkin, edited by Dumas Malone. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Reisman, W. Michael. 1983. "The Struggle for the Falklands." Yale Law Journal (December).

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Philander Chase Knox

Philander Chase Knox

The American statesman Philander Chase Knox (1853-1921) served as U.S. attorney general, senator, and secretary of state.

Philander Knox was born on May 6, 1853, at Brownsville, Pa. He graduated from Mount Union College in Ohio in 1872, and in 1878 he formed a successful law practice in Pittsburgh, Pa. In 1901 Knox drew up the papers transferring the Carnegie Steel Company to J. P. Morgan, thus creating America's first billion-dollar corporation, the United States Steel Company.

Knox joined President William McKinley's cabinet as attorney general in 1901, and he continued to serve under President Theodore Roosevelt after McKinley's assassination. Despite his close ties to business interests, Knox vigorously prosecuted trusts under the almost-forgotten Sherman Antitrust Law and took actions against railroads to prevent rate discrimination and rebates. His most notable victory was against the Northern Securities Company, formed by J.P. Morgan and James J. Hill to merge the competing Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads. Knox personally argued the case before the Supreme Court, which sustained the government's position. Knox also influenced new antitrust legislation, helped draft the laws that created the Department of Commerce and Labor, and gave the Interstate Commerce Commission effective control of railroad rates.

In June 1904 Knox was appointed to the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania and served with distinction until President William Howard Taft appointed him secretary of state in 1909. As secretary, Knox reorganized and strengthened the State Department and the Foreign Service. He encouraged American overseas investments (his policy of "dollar diplomacy") to promote the objectives of American political diplomacy, although he was not too successful.

In 1913 Knox resumed his law practice in Pittsburgh. In 1916 he was elected to the Senate, where he fought against United States participation in the League of Nations and ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. Instead, Knox favored a congressional resolution repealing the declarations of war against Germany and Austria. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed this, but President Warren Harding signed it in 1921. On Oct. 12, 1921, Knox died.

Further Reading

Useful general accounts are Henry F. Pringle, The Life and Times of William Howard Taft (2 vols., 1939), and George E. Mowry, The Era of Theodore Roosevelt, 1900-1912 (1958). See also the autobiography of Knox's chief aide in the State Department, F. M. Huntington Wilson, Memoirs of an Ex-diplomat (1945). Balthasar Henry Meyer, A History of the Northern Securities Case (1906), contains a detailed account of Knox's role. Graham H. Stuart, The Department of State: A History of Its Organization, Procedure and Personnel (1949), describes Knox's reorganization. Walter Scholes is critical of Knox as secretary of state in An Uncertain Tradition: American Secretaries of State in the Twentieth Century, edited by Norman A. Graebner (1961). More favorable is the account in Samuel Flagg Bemis, ed., American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy, vol. 9 (1929). □

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Knox, Philander Chase

Philander Chase Knox (fəlăn´dər), 1853–1921, U.S. cabinet member, b. Brownsville, Pa. He built up a fortune as a corporation lawyer in Pittsburgh. He was Attorney General (1901–4) in the cabinets of Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He was prominently identified with trust prosecutions, but failed to dissolve any significant organizations, except that of the Northern Securities Company, a railroad holding corporation. He served as U.S. Senator by appointment (1904–5) and was elected for the succeeding full term, but resigned in 1909 to become Secretary of State under President Taft. Continuing the policies of his predecessors, John Hay and Elihu Root, Knox sought to protect financial interests abroad, particularly in Latin America and China—a policy that became known as "dollar diplomacy." Knox returned to the Senate in 1917 and allied himself with those who fought ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and participation in the League of Nations.

See S. F. Bemis, ed., The American Secretaries of State, Vol. IX (1929, repr. 1963).

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