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Francis B. Biddle Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS251

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of the personal papers of former U.S. attorney general Francis Biddle. It is one of three portions comprising the larger collection of the Biddle Family papers that include the papers of his wife, Katherine Biddle and a series of family correspondence (see separate finding aids).

Of interest are lengthy correspondence files relating to Biddle's appointments as judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (1939); U.S. attorney general (1941); and member-judge of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany (1945-1946).

Notable correspondents include, among many others, Dean Acheson, Conrad Aiken, Thurman Arnold, Bernard Berenson, Henry Beston, Norman Birkett, Alain Bosquet, Van Wyck Brooks, Stimson Bullitt, Roy Basler, William Rose Benet, Richard Crowder, Agnes de Mille, Gertrude Ely, T.S. Eliot, Abe Fortas, Felix Frankfurter, Learned Hand, Oscar Hammerstein, August Heckscher, J. Edgar Hoover; Cordell Hull, Sturgis Ingersoll, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Emmet Lavery, Frieda Lawrence, Robert Lowell, Clare Boothe Luce, Henry McCarter, Archibald MacLeish, Jacques Maritain, Gian Carlo Menotti, Marion Merrell, Nancy Mitford, Henry Morgenthau, Lewis Mumford, L. Quincy Mumford, Charlton Ogburn, Boies Penrose, Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt (particularly wartime memoranda, 1944-45), A.L. Rowse, Karl Shapiro, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Lisa Sergio, Edward R. Stettinius, Adlai Stevenson, Harry L. Stimson, Leopold and Olga Stokowski, Allen Tate, Virgil Thomson, Lionel Trilling, Harry S. Truman, Robert Wagner, Henry A. Wallace, Herbert Wechsler, Owen Wister, and Mark Van Doren.

Included are correspondence files and manuscripts relating to Biddle's major works including his two-volume autobiography, "A Casual Past" (1961), and "In Brief Authority," (1962); two works on Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Mr. Justice Holmes (1942), and "Justice Holmes, Natural Law, and the Supreme Court" (a series of lectures, 1961); "The World's Best Hope" (1949); and "The Fear of Freedom" (1952). There are also typescripts and reprints of many articles by Biddle, as well as correspondence and manuscripts relating to a play about the English Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania William Penn (1644-1718), written by Biddle and adapted for the stage by Richard Waters.

Note on the index to the original printed finding aid: An effort has been made to index as many individual correspondents as possible; however time constraints have made it necessary to index selectively for some folders. For a complete listing of correspondents, it is therefore advisable to consult the folder descriptions. If the names of individuals listed in a particular folder description are marked with an asterisk (*) it can be assumed that only those are indexed. If no asterisks mark any names for a given folder, it can be assumed that ALL names listed for that folder have been indexed. Also note that names appear as given or as signed, unless further information is available.


  • 1912 - 1968
  • Majority of material found within 1940 - 1966

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Permission of the Biddle Family is required before accessing this collection. The Booth Family Center for Special Collections can provide information on the permission process.

Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical note

Francis B. Biddle was born in Paris, France, on May 9, 1886. He attended Groton School in Massachusetts and Harvard University where he earned an A.B. in 1909 and LL.B. in 1911. The following year he became private secretary to Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1912, he was also admitted to the Pennsylvania bar and entered practice in Philadelphia, first with Biddle, Paul, & Jayne (until 1915), and subsequently with Barnes, Biddle & Myers (becoming a member in 1915 through 1939).

In 1935, Biddle was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt as chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, a position he held until the National Recovery Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court that same year. From 1938 to 1939 he acted as chief counsel for the joint congressional committee that conducted an investigation of the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1939, he was appointed judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He left the bench the following year when Roosevelt appointed him solicitor general. Biddle became attorney general, in 1941, serving until after Roosevelt's death in 1945.

As attorney general Biddle was chief prosecutor of eight German spies and saboteurs apprehended on the coasts of Florida and Long Island during the early part of the Second World War. He also administered the U.S. wartime internment of aliens, although he disagreed with the policy as a violation of civil liberties. On October 12, 1942, he was able to remove Italian-Americans from the status of enemy aliens. After the war, Biddle was appointed American member-judge of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.

In 1947, Biddle was invited by Harry Truman to consider nomination for the position of secretary general to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); however, because of dissension among the other delegates regarding nominations, Biddle's name was not formally presented. Some weeks later, Truman nominated him as American representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council; however, when the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate hesitated to approve the nomination, Biddle removed his name from consideration.

In addition to his work with the federal government, Biddle served in official posts in many private organizations. He was national chairman of Americans for Democratic Action (1950-1953); member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Netherlands (1951-1961); chairman of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Committee (1956-1966); vice-chairman of the board of trustees of the Twentieth Century Fund of New York (1951-1967); and chairman of the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union (circa 1964-1968).

Francis Biddle was married to the poet Katherine Garrison Chapin. He died in Hyannis, Massachusetts, on October 4, 1968. Sources: Dictionary of American Biography (1999); National Cyclopedia of American Biography; Francis Biddle, "A Casual Past" (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1961), and "In Brief Authority" (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1962).


22.25 Linear Feet (14 archival boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Edmund Randolph Biddle, 1999.

Francis B. Biddle Papers
Lisette Matano, Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057