Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Knox, William (1732-1810)

KNOX, WILLIAM (1732–1810), official and controversialist, was born in Ireland in 1732. He received the rudiments of his political education from Sir Richard Cox [q. v.] Lord Halifax appointed him ‘one of his majesty's council and provost-marshal of Georgia,’ when Henry Ellis [q. v.] was made governor of the colony. Ellis and Knox arrived at Savannah on 16 Feb. 1757, and Knox did not return to England until 1761. Lord Grosvenor was then his friend and patron; they were at Paris together in 1763, and it was probably through Grosvenor's influence that Knox obtained his introduction to George Grenville. He became agent in Great Britain for Georgia and East Florida, and in the interests of the colonies sent a memorial to Lord Bute, recommending the creation of a colonial aristocracy and the inclusion in parliament of representatives of the colonies; but his services as agent were dispensed with by resolution of the Georgia assembly on 15 Nov. 1765, for two pamphlets written in defence of the Stamp Act, which he considered to be the least objectionable mode of taxation. In the same year (1765) he gave evidence before a committee of the House of Commons on the state of the American colonies, and from the institution of the secretaryship of state for America in 1770 to its suppression by Lord Shelburne in 1782, he acted as the under-secretary. His views formed a basis for the conciliatory propositions of Lord North in 1776; he suggested the creation of a separate loyalist colony in Maine in 1780, which was approved by the king and ministers, but abandoned through legal difficulties, and to his zeal were ascribed many of the measures taken against the American colonies. On the suppression of his post he sought for compensation, but it was refused on the ground that his services were sufficiently rewarded in the two pensions of 600l. a year each bestowed by the state on him and his wife for the loss, as loyalists, of their property in America. In 1772 the ‘reversion of the place of secretary of New York’ (Calendar of Home Office Papers, 1770–2, p. 581) was granted to him, but it never brought him any emolument. Knox continued to be consulted even after his dismissal from office. He drafted in July 1783 an order in council excluding American shipping from the West Indies, and on his suggestion the province of New Brunswick was created in 1784, and lands were granted to the expelled loyalists of New York and New England. After the death of Sir James Wright in 1786 the loyalists of Georgia made him their attorney to press their claims to compensation, but his active life then ceased. He died at Ealing, near London, on 25 Aug. 1810.

Knox published numerous pamphlets. The chief were: 1. ‘A Letter to a Member of Parliament, wherein the Power of the British Legislature and the case of the Colonists are briefly and impartially considered’ [anon.], 1764. 2. ‘The Claim of the Colonies to an Exemption from Internal Taxes imposed by authority of Parliament examined’ [anon.], 1765. These were the two pamphlets that lost him his post of agent. 3. ‘Three Tracts respecting the Conversion and Instruction of the Free Indians and Negroe Slaves in the Colonies’ [anon.], n. p. or d. [1768]; new edit., with his name, 1789. They were written at the desire of Archbishop Secker. 4. ‘The Present State of the Nation, particularly with respect to its Trade, Finances, &c.’ [anon.], 1768; 4th edit. 1769. It was written by Knox, with the assistance of George Grenville, and many portions which were translated into French and Spanish were openly attributed to Grenville. Many of its prognostications were very gloomy, and it contained numerous reflections on Rockingham's friends. These provoked Burke into replying with ‘Observations on the Present State of the Nation,’ in which he ridiculed his opponent as writing ‘a funeral sermon’ (Works, 1852 ed., iii. 7–108). Burke's tract went through several editions, and evoked from Knox ‘An Appendix to the Present State of the Nation, containing a Reply to the Observations on that Pamphlet’ [anon.], 1769. Walpole says that from the ‘same mint’ of Grenville and his friends had previously come ‘Considerations on Trade and Finance’ (Memoirs of George III, 1845 ed., iii. 333–5). 5. ‘Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies reviewed’ [anon.], 1769, republished 1793. In this Knox was also assisted by Grenville. 6. ‘A Defence of the Quebec Act,’ 1774, two editions. 7. ‘Considerations on the State of Ireland’ [anon.], 1778, reprinted in ‘Extra-Official State Papers,’ App. i. 22–61. 8. ‘Helps to a Right Understanding the Merits of the Commercial Treaty with France,’ 1788. Knox's desire to augment Irish trade is shown in this tract, and in his letters described in the Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. App. i. p. 200, and App. iii. p. 39. 9. ‘Extra-Official State Papers addressed to Lord Rawdon and others. By a late Under-Secretary of State, 1789, 2 vols. 8vo. 10. ‘Considerations of the Present State of the Nation, addressed to Lord Rawdon and others. By a late Under-Secretary of State,’ 1789. 11. ‘Observations upon the Liturgy, with a Proposal for its Reform. By a Layman of the Church of England, late an Under-Secretary of State,’ 1789. 12. ‘Letter from W. K., Esq., to W. Wilberforce,’ 1790, respecting the latter's exertions for the slaves. 13. ‘Letter to the People of Ireland upon the intended Application of the Roman Catholics to Parliament for the Exercise of the Elective Franchise,’ 1792. 14. ‘Friendly Address to the Clubs in St. Ann, Westminster, associated to obtain a Reform in Parliament,’ 1793. 15. ‘Considerations on Theocracy, by a Layman of the Church of England,’ 1796, in favour of ‘universal goodwill towards our fellow-creatures.’ Watt attributes to Knox ‘The Revealed Will of God the sufficient Rule of Men,’ 1803, 2 vols. Several letters to and from George Grenville are in the ‘Grenville Papers,’ vols. iii. and iv., and Knox's opinions are often mentioned in Thomas Hutchinson's ‘Diary.’

[Almon's Biog. Anecdotes, ii. 112–15; Drake's Dict. of American Biog.; Corresp. of George III and Lord North, ii. 402–3; Gent. Mag. 1810, pt. ii. p. 197; Halkett and Laing's Anon. Lit. pp. 409, 505, 866, 1791, 2004.]

W. P. C.