Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844)

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The first editor of the Lewis and Clark journals was a seventeen-year-old college graduate and student of law in 1803. In the next year he left for three years as secretary to American ambassadors in France and England, positions that allowed him an extensive tour of Europe. Back home, admitted to the bar and elected to the Pennsylvania legislature, he was weighing the choice between law and literature when, at Jefferson's suggestion, William Clark asked him to edit his and Lewis's journals. The work became Biddle's first significant literary effort, and in a year, rising each morning at 5 a.m., he was ready for the printing. When the original publisher failed to meet his commitment, Biddle located another, and turned the final polishing of the manuscript to another editor for an essentially finished manuscript. He considered that because of his intense effort on the journals he had neglected his duties as a Pennsylvania legislator. The work was published seven years after the return of the expedition; at the apparent wish of Biddle he was afforded neither mention in its pages nor remuneration for his work.1

There was just one more major effort in writing for Biddle. It was a review of foreign laws and regulations affecting commerce, moneys, weights and measures, and portended his second career, first as a director and then as President of the Second Bank of the United States. Successful in the first decade of Biddle's presidency (1822-1832), the bank became known to President Jackson as "Biddle's Bank," but like all banks one to which Jackson was opposed, branding it an instrument of the wealthy, buying political influence to the disadvantage of the many. He vetoed the bill re-chartering the bank in 1832 and began the withdrawal of government deposits. Chartering the bank as a state bank did not equip it to function as a central bank as Biddle attempted to have it perform. Its weakening led to his resignation in 1839 and the closing of the bank two years later. Biddle retired to his estate, Andalusia, in Bucks County. He had been in the thick of the intellectual life of Philadelphia, active in the American Philosophical Society, the Wistar Association, the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and an organizer of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

1. See William G. Shade, "Biddle, Nicholas," in American National Biography Online, February 2000.

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