Nicholas Biddle was born to a prominent Pennsylvania family in 1786. A precocious child, he graduated from Princeton University at the age of fifteen. He traveled widely in Europe after completing his studies and became secretary to James Monroe, then the US minister to Great Britain and later president of the United States. Upon returning to the United States, Biddle practiced law and wrote about the fine arts, later becoming editor of the magazine Port Folio. He also prepared for publication The History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, based on the explorers’ journals.
Biddle entered politics in 1811, when he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He later also served in the Pennsylvania State Senate, where he argued for a new charter for the Bank of the United States. In 1816, the second Bank of the United States was chartered, and in 1819, Monroe, now president, appointed Biddle as one of its directors. In 1822, Biddle became president of the Bank.
Biddle’s early tenure as president of the second Bank was generally considered successful, despite little formal or practical training in banking or monetary theory. He made an enemy of President Andrew Jackson, who sought to dramatically reform the Bank, and due to the urging of some of Jackson’s opponents as well as his own intransigence, he was unwilling to reach a compromise to extend the Bank’s national charter. In 1833, Jackson ordered all federal funds to be withdrawn from the Bank, and its charter expired in 1836. The institution continued on as a state-chartered bank in Pennsylvania until 1841, with Biddle as its president until 1839. Biddle briefly considered running for president on the Whig Party ticket in 1840 against Martin Van Buren, the incumbent, who also had previously served as vice president under Jackson. With his public status at a low ebb and his personal finances troubled, Biddle died in 1844.
Written by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. See disclaimer.