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Nicholas Biddle Estate


Description

The Nicholas Biddle Estate, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is commonly known as "Andalusia." It lies on the Delaware River in Bucks County, about sixteen miles north of Philadelphia. The beautiful grounds and handsome residence jointly attest to the taste, culture, and manifold interests of Biddle.

The main house consists of the original structure and additions erected by the banker. John Craig, a Philadelphia merchant, purchased the land at "Andalusia" in 1794 and then erected the north section of the present house. His wife designed the north front, an outstanding example of the Regency style in the United States. The front's semi-octagonal east and west wings stir special admiration for Mrs. Craig's design.

Biddle's association with "Andalusia" began with his marriage to Jane Craig on October 4, 1811. Ten years later he made the house his permanent residence and in the early 1830s he made a number of additions to it.

Employing Thomas U. Walter, Biddle added a south wing to the Craig house in 1834. The two men produced a handsome projection that reflected Biddle's long affection for classical Greece. The new wing resembled a Greek temple, its six well-proportioned Doric columns in front looking toward the Delaware River. Although adding a new style to the house, the Biddle wing, facing in the opposite direction from the front, eliminated any conflict in architectural mode. Today trees hid the wings of the front section and make the Biddle wing appear even more an individual entity.

Significance

As President of the Second Bank of the United States between 1823 and 1836, Nicholas Biddle clashed with President Andrew Jackson in an epochal political-economic struggle. Biddle's defeat assured the triumph of Jacksonian democracy, and his humiliation remains a major event in American history.

Biddle's background and early career did little to prepare him, in a technical sense, for the presidency of the Second Bank. Born in Philadelphia on January 8, 1786, to parents of old Quaker stock and of social position, he was named after his father's brother, a naval hero of the American Revolution. Biddle entered the University of Pennsylvania when only ten and was ready for graduation when thirteen. The University thought him too young, to be graduated, so he did not receive a degree. Present-day Princeton University, then known as the College of New Jersey, did not demur at Biddle's youth, and accepted him as a student in 1799. At his graduation in 1801, he spoke as the valedictorian.

About three years after leaving the College of New Jersey, Biddle spent several years abroad. He sailed for Europe in October 1804 after his appointment as the private secretary to America's minister to France. Biddle was now about five-foot-seven inches tall, had chestnut eyes and hair, and a fair complexion and handsome visage. A keen intelligence completed a winning personality. After reaching Paris, he quickly became very useful to Minister John Armstrong and handled many negotiations for him. The following year saw Biddle begin his extensive travels, he visited Switzerland and southern France in 1805. Biddle in 1806 continued his travels, traversing the ancient roads of Italy, Sicily and Greece, and visiting the classical ruins of those areas. The first American to tour the home of the ancient Greeks, Biddle measured temples and transcribed inscriptions. After his return from Greece, he became the secretary of the legation in London, which position he filled until July 1807, when he returned to America.

Once back in Philadelphia, Biddle seemed destined for a combined literary and political career. He completed his legal studies and was admitted to the bar on December 11, 1809. In the following year he began writing his account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which he completed in 1812. About two years later the work, History of the Expedition of Captains Lewis and Clark, appeared in print. It is still an outstanding history of that amazing expedition. By the time the book had appeared, Biddle had been editor of the Port Folio, America's leading literary periodical, for almost two years. A rising political career, however, induced him to leave the Port Folio. Having served a term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1810-11, Biddle won a seat in the state senate in 1814. There he interested himself in many matters and served most capably until he gave up his seat in 1817. He subsequently ran for the Federal Congress, but was twice defeated.

Defeat at the polls did not demolish Biddle's political hopes. When he began his association with the Second Bank, the ambitious Biddle regarded his position, in part as a move toward higher office. In January 1819, he became one of the five governmental directors of the bank. Ill-equipped to perform his duties, he studied banking assiduously and soon exhibited an amazing knowledge of financial theory and practice. And on January 6, 1823, he was elected president of the Second Bank of the United States. Biddle, as the chief officer of the bank, succeeded as a banker but failed as a politician. His shrewd leadership had transformed the once-shaky institution by 1830. An indefatigable worker, Biddle dominated his bank and successfully applied the policies he thought best. Thus, the Second Bank came to control state banks, regulate currency, and protect the commercial operations of the Nation. By the end of 1829, both Biddle's and the bank's position appeared secure, almost impregnable.

But success frequently spawns danger. As the Second Bank became dominant, enemies arose. The numerous state banks abhorred the stringent control of the Philadelphia institution. New York City, hoping to supplant Philadelphia as the Nation's financial center, disliked Biddle's accomplishment. Most important, a political phenomenon was occurring. The eastern seaboard's control of politics had been broken by Jackson's election in 1828 and the victors intended to consolidate their triumph. That meant the extension of both financial and political democracy, which implied the death of the Second Bank.

The contest that erupted between the pro and anti-bank factions centered about the renewal of the institution's 1816 charter. Biddle, at the suggestion of Henry Clay, interjected the charter into the presidential campaign of 1832. Legislation for the bank's continuation was approved by Congress before the election, but Jackson vetoed the bill. His vigorous veto message, according to Biddle, had "... all the fury of a chained panther biting the bars of his cage.[1] Despite Biddle's indignation, Jackson won the election. The bank appeared to be doomed. Not to Biddle, though. Displaying his namesake's courage and his own foolhardiness, Biddle engaged in a campaign to force Jackson to recharter the bank. The Philadelphian demanded that state banks redeem their notes in specie, but most of those institutions could not and finally failed. That did nothing to increase Biddle's popularity among a very vocal and politically influential group. Biddle, by that and similar acts, appeared to substantiate Jackson's argument about the dangers inherent in a strong central bank. Furthermore, he failed to cause Jackson to reverse his decision. The bank's charter expired on March 1, 1836.

Biddle, following the expiration of the charter, caused the bank to be reorganized as the Bank of the United States of Pennsylvania. He remained with the new institution until March 1839.

Following the end of his banking career, Biddle retired to "Andalusia." There he occupied himself with social and intellectual pursuits until his death on February 27, 1844.

[1] Quoted in Thomas P. Govan, Nicholas Biddle, Nationalist and Public Banker, 1786-1844 (Chicago, 1959). 202-03.

School District: Bensalem Township

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