Military Wiki
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
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

In office
March 4, 1939 – January 22, 1940
Appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Joseph Buffington
Succeeded by Herbert Funk Goodrich
Personal details
Born (1886-05-19)May 19, 1886
Paris, France
Died October 4, 1968(1968-10-04) (aged 82)
Wellfleet, Massachusetts, United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Katherine Garrison Chapin
Children 2
Alma mater Harvard University
Occupation Lawyer; Civil servant

Francis Biddle (far right) with other judges at the Nuremberg trials (from left) Iona Nikitchenko (Soviet Union), Norman Birkett and Geoffrey Lawrence (United Kingdom).

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.

Early life and education[]

Biddle was born in Paris, France, while his family was living abroad.[1] He 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 (1753–1813) the seventh Governor of Virginia, the second Secretary of State, and the first United States Attorney General,[2] and a half second cousin four times removed of the 4th President of the United States James Madison.[3] He graduated from Groton School, where he participated in boxing.[4] He earned degrees from Harvard University in 1909 (A.B.) and 1911 (law degree).[1]


Early career[]

He first worked as a private secretary to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. from 1911 to 1912.[1] He spent the next 27 years practicing law in Philadelphia. 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.[4] He served as special assistant to the U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1922 to 1926.[1]

Roosevelt administration[]

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.[1] 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.[1]

During World War II, Biddle used the Espionage Act of 1917 to attempt to shut down 'vermin publications'. This included Father Coughlin's publication entitled Social Justice.[5] Biddle has also been "credited" with the creation of what became known later as the "Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations"; in fact, this list was originally known as "The Biddle List". In the Biddle List, eleven front groups originating in the 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[7] 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.[8]

Truman administration[]

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."[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

In 1950, he was named as chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action, a position he held for three years;[1] 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.[citation needed]

Personal life[]

On April 27, 1918, Biddle was married to the poet Katherine Garrison Chapin. They had two sons:

  • Edmund Randolph Biddle (-2001),[9] who married Frances M. Disner[10][11]
  • Garrison Chapin Biddle

He died on October 4, 1968 of a heart attack at his summer home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, at the age of 82. Biddle was buried in Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[4]


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 wrote of his close association with Oliver Wendell Holmes 30 years earlier with a biography of the jurist, Mr. Justice Holmes, which was adapted into a Broadway play and a motion picture entitled The Magnificent Yankee. Democratic Thinking and the War, was published in 1944. His 1949 book, The World's Best Hope, looked at the role of the United States in the post-war era. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963.[12]

In popular culture[]

Biddle was the subject of the 2004 play Trying by Joanna McClelland Glass, who had served as Biddle's personal secretary from 1967 to 1968.[13][14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6
    • Francis Biddle at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  2. Political Graveyard: Biddle, Francis Beverley (1886-1968)
  3. Rootsweb: The Ancestry of John Howard Camp
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Whitman, Alden (October 5, 1968). "Francis Biddle Is Dead at 82; Roosevelt's Attorney General; First Chairman of N.L.R.B. Was Nuremberg Judge -Backed Liberal Causes". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2016. 
  5. "The Press: Coughlin Quits - TIME". 1942-05-18.,9171,849845,00.html. Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  6. Wikipedia: Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations
  7. Fein, Bruce (2007-05-07) State of Emergency, The American Conservative
  8. 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. ISBN 9780385722704. 
  9. O'Neill, James (January 2, 2001). "Edmund R. Biddle, 79, Professor, Poet". Retrieved 11 April 2016. 
  10. "MISS DISNER FIANCEE OF EDMUND R. BIDDLE". The New York Times. January 26, 1951. Retrieved 11 April 2016. 
  11. "Mrs. Edmund Biddle Has Son". The New York Times. July 10, 1952. Retrieved 11 April 2016. 
  12. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 25, 2011. 
  13. "Trying times at Rosebud Theatre". Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  14. Jones, Kenneth (19 April 2004). "Victory Gardens Keeps Trying: Joanna Glass With Fritz Weaver Extends Two Weeks". Retrieved 17 August 2012. 

External links[]

Judges of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
United Kingdom Geoffrey Lawrence (president) Norman Birkett (alternate) United Kingdom
United States Francis Biddle (judge) John Parker (alternate) United States
France Henri de Vabres (judge) Robert Falco (alternate) France
Soviet Union Iona Nikitchenko (judge) Alexander Volchkov (alternate) Soviet Union

Legal offices
Preceded by
Joseph Buffington
Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Succeeded by
Herbert Funk Goodrich
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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