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Francis Biddle

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Title: Francis Biddle  
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Subject: Robert H. Jackson, Tom C. Clark, J. Howard McGrath, Harry S. Truman, Trying
Collection: 1886 Births, 1968 Deaths, American Anti-Communists, American Civil Liberties Union People, American Military Personnel of World War I, Biddle Family, Burials at Christ Church (Philadelphia), Burials in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Place, Deaths from Myocardial Infarction, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration Cabinet Members, Groton School Alumni, Harvard Lampoon People, Harvard Law School Alumni, Judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Law Clerks of the Supreme Court of the United States, Members of the Philadelphia Club, National Labor Relations Board, Pennsylvania Democrats, Pennsylvania Lawyers, Pennsylvania Progressives (1912), Truman Administration Cabinet Members, United States Army Personnel, United States Attorneys General, United States Court of Appeals Judges Appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, United States Solicitors General
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Francis Biddle

Francis Beverley Biddle
Francis B. Biddle in 1935
58th United States Attorney General
In office
August 26, 1941 – June 26, 1945
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Robert H. Jackson
Succeeded by Tom C. Clark
24th United States Solicitor General
In office
January 22, 1940 – August 25, 1941
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Robert H. Jackson
Succeeded by Charles H. Fahy
Personal details
Born (1886-05-19)May 19, 1886
Paris, France
Died October 4, 1968(1968-10-04) (aged 82)
Wellfleet, Massachusetts, United States
Resting place Christ Church Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Katherine Garrison Chapin
Children Edmund Randolph Biddle
Garrison Chapin Biddle
Alma mater Harvard University
Occupation Lawyer; Civil servant
Profession Government
Francis Biddle (far right) with the other British judges at the Nuremberg trials (from left) Iona Nikitchenko, Norman Birkett and Geoffrey Lawrence.

Francis Beverley Biddle (May 19, 1886 – October 4, 1968) was an American lawyer and judge who was Attorney General of the United States during World War II and who served as the primary American judge during the postwar Nuremberg trials.


  • Life and career 1
    • Biddle List (1941) 1.1
  • References 2
  • External links 3

Life and career

Born in Paris, France. Biddle was one of four sons of Frances Brown (née Robinson) and Algernon Sydney Biddle, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania of the Biddle family. He was also a great-great-grandson of Edmund Randolph,[1] and a half second cousin four times removed of James Madison.[2] He was born in Paris[3] while his family was living abroad. He graduated from the Groton School, where he participated in boxing.

He earned degrees from Harvard University in 1909 (A.B.) and 1911 (law degree).[3] He first worked as a private secretary to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. from 1911 to 1912.[3] He spent the next 27 years practicing law in Philadelphia, PA. In 1912, he supported the presidential candidacy of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt's renegade Bull Moose Party. He was also served briefly during World War I as a private the United States Army from October 23 to November 30, 1918.

On April 27, 1918, Biddle was married to the poet Katherine Garrison Chapin. They had two sons, Edmund Randolph Biddle and Garrison Chapin Biddle, and was the subject of the 2004 play Trying by Joanna McClelland Glass, who had served as Biddle's personal secretary from 1967 to 1968.

He served as special assistant to the U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1922 to 1926.[3] Beginning in the 1930s, Biddle was appointed to a number of important governmental roles. In 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated him to be chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. On February 9, 1939, Roosevelt nominated Biddle to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, to a seat vacated by Joseph Buffington. Biddle was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 28, 1939, and received his commission on March 4, 1939. He only served one year before resigning on January 22, 1940, to become the United States Solicitor General.[3] This also turned out to be a short-lived position when Roosevelt nominated him to the position of Attorney General of the United States in 1941. During this time he was also chief counsel to the Special Congressional Committee to Investigate the Tennessee Valley Authority, from 1938 to 1939, and director of Immigration and Naturalization Service at the U.S. Department of Justice in 1940.[3]

During Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) were singled out as being "subversive" and under the control of the Soviet Union. Unlike the later, more infamous Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations, which contained both left and right-wing organizations, the Biddle List contained only left-wing organizations as well as civil rights organizations tied to the CPUSA.

Biddle List (1941)

In 1942, Biddle was involved in a case where eight captured Nazi agents were tried by a military tribunal appointed by President Roosevelt for espionage and planning sabotage in the United States as part of Operation Pastorius. Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Royall challenged Roosevelt's decision to prosecute the Germans in military tribunals, citing Ex parte Milligan (1866), a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not establish military tribunals to try civilians in areas where civilian courts were functioning, even during wartimes. Biddle responded that the Germans were not entitled to have access to civilian courts due to their status as unlawful combatants. This decision was upheld in Ex parte Quirin (1942) where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the military commission created to try the Germans was lawful. On August 3, 1942, all eight were found guilty and sentenced to death. Five days later, six of the eight were executed in the electric chair on the third floor of the District of Columbia jail. The other two were given prison terms as they willingly turned over their comrades to the FBI. In 1948, both men were released from prison and returned to Germany.

Although Biddle opposed Japanese-American internment during the war, he succumbed to "political expediency" and eventually supported the policy, and was haunted by it for years afterward.[6] However, Biddle strengthened his department's efforts on behalf of African American civil rights by instructing United States attorneys to direct their prosecutions against forced labor in the South away from the usual practice of charging "peonage," which required them to find an element of debt, and toward bringing charges of "slavery" and "involuntary servitude" against employers and local officials.[7]

At President Harry S. Truman's request, he resigned after Roosevelt's death. Shortly after, Truman appointed Biddle as a judge at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Biddle's successor, Tom Clark told the story that Biddle, who wore spats, was the first government official whose resignation Truman sought, and that it was quite a difficult task. Biddle was amused by Truman's stammering, but after it was over, he threw his arm around the President and said, "See, Harry, now that wasn't so hard."

In 1947, he was nominated by Truman as the American representative on the United Nations Economic and Social Council. However, after the Republican Party refused to act on the nomination, Biddle asked Truman to withdraw his name.

In 1950, he was named as chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action, a position he held for three years;[3] then one decade later, wrote two volumes of memoirs: A Casual Past in 1961 and In Brief Authority the following year. His final position came as chairman of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Commission, which he resigned in 1965.

Biddle's writing skills had long been in evidence prior to the release of his memoirs. In 1927, he wrote a novel about Philadelphia society, "The Llanfear Pattern." In 1942, he took advantage of his close association with Oliver Wendell Holmes 30 years earlier with a biography of the jurist, Mr. Justice Holmes, then wrote Democratic Thinking and the War two years later. His 1949 book, The World's Best Hope looked at the United States' role in the post-war era. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963.[8]

He died of a heart attack in Wellfleet, Massachusetts on October 4, 1968, at the age of 82. Biddle was buried in Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


  1. ^ Political Graveyard: Biddle, Francis Beverley (1886-1968)
  2. ^ Rootsweb: The Ancestry of John Howard Camp
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Francis Biddle at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  4. ^ "The Press: Coughlin Quits - TIME". 1942-05-18. Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  5. ^ WorldHeritage: Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations
  6. ^ Fein, Bruce (2007-05-07) State of Emergency, The American Conservative
  7. ^ Blackmon, Doublas A. (2008). Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Anchor Books. pp. 377–379.  
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 25, 2011. 

External links

  • article on Biddle's role in Japanese American internmentDensho Encyclopedia
  • Francis Biddle at Find a Grave

Legal offices
Preceded by
Robert H. Jackson
U.S. Solicitor General
Served under: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Succeeded by
Charles H. Fahy
Preceded by
Robert H. Jackson
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman

Succeeded by
Tom C. Clark
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