Edward Biddle I: Leader of the Whig Party
Edward Biddle I (1738–1779) was an American soldier, lawyer, and statesman from Pennsylvania. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775. Edward was the son of William (1698-1756) and Mary (Scull) (1709-1790) Biddle. He was born in 1738 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and had nine brothers and sisters, although two died in infancy. His formal education was limited to the common (public) schools and ended at about age fourteen. When the French and Indian War began in 1754 he joined the provincial forces as an Ensign. By the time he left the service, at the end of the war in 1763 he had been promoted to Captain.
On June 6, 1761 Edward married Elizabeth Ross, the sister of George Ross. After the war he read law in the offices of her brother. By 1767 he had been admitted to the bar, and the couple moved to Reading where he began his practice. Although the couple had no children, they both came from large families. The Betsy Ross who gained fame as the seamstress of the first American flag was the wife of her nephew. He was the uncle of Congressman Richard Biddle.
Also in 1767 Biddle began his career in the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly as a representative for Berks County. He would serve there until the colonial assembly went out of business during the Revolution. He was also a member of the rebel provincial congress, and later the state General Assembly until 1778. He was a leader within that body of the Whig or radical group in the struggle to set Pennsylvania's course in the revolution.
In 1774 Pennsylvania was divided about the looming revolution. The loyalists and the supporters of the Penn family in the Assembly were joined by the Quakers who opposed any war. As a result, in July, the Assembly sent a split delegation to the Continental Congress: Galloway, Humphreys, and Rhoads were all moderates, while Biddle, Mifflin, Morton, and Ross were radicals.
That first Continental Congress produced a statement or Declaration of Rights, as well as a plan of union and pleas to King George to resolve the issues that separated the colonies from Great Britain. They also produced a renewal of the non-importation agreement that had been used during the Stamp Act protests. Edward Biddle was a member of the committee that drafted to Declaration of Rights, and later oversaw the printing of the resolutions the Congress had passed.
Early in 1775, Governor John Penn called the Assembly into session, intent on having Pennsylvania send its own declarations to the crown. These would be based on the Galloway Plan that had been rejected by the Continental Congress, and would try to reconcile Pennsylvania with the British government. But the legislature mirrored the growing split within the colonies. The Whigs, led by Biddle and George Ross and John Dickinson won the day. Edward Biddle was elected speaker, replacing Joseph Galloway who had held the post the previous year. The actions of the Continental Congress were approved, and a more radical delegation was named to the next Congress.
Biddle died in Chatsworth, Baltimore County, Maryland on September 5, 1779. He is buried in St. Pauls Churchyard in Baltimore.
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