Philander C. Knox
Knox was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, one of nine children of David S. Knox and Rebecca Page Knox. 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 the affluent.
Knox went to and graduated from Mount Union College in 1872 with a bachelor of arts degree. Whilst there, he formed a lifelong friendship with future U.S. President William McKinley, who was at the time a local district attorney.
Knox married Lillie Smith, the daughter of Andrew Smith of the firm Smith, Sutton and Co., in 1880.
He was admitted to the bar in 1875 and practiced in Pittsburgh. From 1876-1877 he was Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and became President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in 1897.
Knox was a leading Pittsburgh attorney in partnership with James Hay Reed, their firm being Knox and Reed (now Reed Smith LLP). Knox was also a member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, whose earthen dam failed in May 1889, causing the Johnstown Flood. When word of the dam's failure was telegraphed to Pittsburgh, Frick and other members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club gathered to form the Pittsburgh Relief Committee for tangible assistance to the flood victims as well as determining to never speak 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.
Knox was a member of the Duquesne Club. Along with fellow South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club member Jesse H. Lippencott, Knox served as a director of the Fifth National Bank of Pittsburgh. Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon and Philander Knox were directors of the Pittsburgh National Bank of Commerce.
Knox's nickname was “Sleepy Phil” which is said to have been because he dozed off during board meetings or because he was cross-eyed, making it difficult for his two eyes to track together.
As counsel for the Carnegie Steel Company, he took a prominent part in organizing the United States Steel Corporation in 1901.
He served as Attorney General in the cabinets of Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt from 1901 to 1904.
While serving Roosevelt, Knox worked hard with the concept of Dollar Diplomacy.
He is well-known for famous quote to Roosevelt: "Mister President, do not let so great an achievement suffer from any taint of legality," made in regards to the construction of the Panama Canal. (A slightly rephrased version of this quote was spoken by Brian Keith as Roosevelt in the 1975 film The Wind and the Lion.)
In June 1904, he was appointed by GovernorSamuel W. Pennypacker of Pennsylvania to fill the unexpired term of Matthew S. Quay in the United States Senate.
In 1905, he was re-elected to the Senate for the full term (to 1909).
Knox made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican Party nomination in the 1908 U.S. presidential election.
Wilson and Harding on Inauguration Day
Woodrow Wilson rides in the Presidental motorcade with Warren Harding on the way to the latter's inaguration. In front are two of Wilson's strongest opponents, Speaker of the House Joseph "Uncle Joe" Cannon (in overcoat, no tophat) and Senator Philander Knox.
In February 1909, President William Howard Taft nominated Senator Knox to be Secretary of State. However, Knox was originally found to be constitutionally ineligible because the salary for the post had been increased during his Senate term, thus violating the Ineligibility Clause. In particular, Knox had been elected to serve the term from March 4, 1905 to March 3, 1911 and during legislation approved on February 26, 1907 as well as debate beginning on March 4, 1908 he consistently supported pay raises eventually instituted for the 1908 fiscal calendar. The discovery of the constitutional complication came as a surprise, after President-elect Taft had announced his intention to nominate Knox. 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. There was much more opposition in the U.S. House of Representatives, where the same measure was defeated once, and then after a special procedural rule was applied, was passed by a 173–115 vote. 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. This legislative mechanism later became known as the "Saxbe fix" and has been applied in a number of similar circumstances.
Knox served as Secretary of State in Taft's cabinet until March 5, 1913. As Secretary of State, Knox 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 the Bering Sea controversy and the North Atlantic fisheries controversy.
Following his term of office, Knox resumed the practice of law in Pittsburgh. Knox was again elected to the Senate from Pennsylvania and served from 1917 to 1921. Knox was a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 1920 U.S. Presidential election but 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 21.