Benjamin T. Biggs bigraphy, stories - American politician

Benjamin T. Biggs : biography

October 1, 1821 - December 25, 1893

Benjamin Thomas Biggs (October 1, 1821 – December 25, 1893) was an American farmer and politician from Middletown, in New Castle County, Delaware. He was a veteran of the Mexican-American War and a member of the Democratic Party, who served as U.S. Representative and 46th Governor of Delaware.

United States Congress

left Biggs was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in the 1860 election, but was narrowly defeated by the People’s Party candidate, George P. Fisher. The People’s Party was a local coalition of the Republicans and Constitutional Union Party, and the positions of people, like Fisher, on the great issues of the day were not yet clear. By 1868 they were, and after Delaware had experienced the humiliation of Federal supervision of its polling places, and the forced emancipation of its few slaves, a large majority turned permanently to the candidates of the Democratic Party. When Biggs ran again for the U.S. House, he was easily elected, defeating Republican Alfred T. Torbert in the 1868 election, and Joshua T. Heald in the 1870 election. But popularity in Delaware did not result in anything useful in the U.S. House, as Biggs joined a small and powerless minority in the 41st and 42nd Congress. He served two terms, from March 4, 1869 until March 3, 1873, during the administration of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and then retired, back to his peach orchards.

Almanac

Elections are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. The Governor takes office the third Tuesday in January, and has a four-year term. U.S. Representatives took office March 4 and have a two-year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
U.S. Representative Legislature Washington March 4, 1869 March 3, 1871
U.S. Representative Legislature Washington March 4, 1871 March 3, 1873
Governor Executive Dover January 18, 1887 January 20, 1891
United States Congressional service
Dates Congress Chamber Majority President Committees Class/District
1869–1871 41st U.S. House Republican Ulysses S. Grant at-large
1871–1873 42nd U.S. House Republican Ulysses S. Grant at-large
Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1860 U.S. Representative Benjamin T. Biggs Democratic 7,485 47% George P. Fisher Republican 7,732 48%
1868 U.S. Representative Benjamin T. Biggs Democratic 10,961 59% Alfred T. Torbert Republican 7,636 41%
1870 U.S. Representative Benjamin T. Biggs Democratic 12,434 55% Joshua T. Heald Republican 10,001 45%
1886 Governor Benjamin T. Biggs Democratic 13,942 64% James R. Hoffecker Temperance 7,835 36%

Professional and political career

Biggs was a teacher and a farmer, whose time was primarily spent tending peach orchards in central New Castle County and the adjacent portion of Maryland. However, he was also a talented public speaker, and through this avocation, began a lifelong involvement in public affairs. Beginning as a member of the Whig Party, he was an instrumental figure in the Delaware Constitutional Convention of 1852. While the work of this convention was ultimately rejected, Biggs switched his partisan allegiance to the Democratic Party when the Whig Party broke up. The Democrats were the Southern leaning, anti-abolitionist, states rights party, strongly opposed to the policies of Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans. Presumably Biggs was in general agreement with its positions.

Death and legacy

Biggs died at his home in Middletown, Delaware and was buried into the Bethel Church Cemetery at Chesapeake City, Maryland. They were moved again to an unknown location in 1965 upon a widening of the nearby Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. His son, John, was Attorney General of Delaware while he was Governor. The Gov. Benjamin T. Biggs Farm was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Early life and family

Biggs was born near Bohemia Manor in Cecil County, Maryland, son of John and Diana Bell Biggs. He attended the Methodist Pennington Seminary and Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. During the Mexican-American War he was appointed a major of the Delaware militia. He married Mary Beekman and had five children: John, Elizabeth, Benjamin T. Jr., Jennie, and Willard. They lived at 201 North Cass Street in Middletown, Delaware and were members of the Methodist Church.

Governor of Delaware

Over the next twenty years Delaware politics were not unlike those of a state in the Deep South. In spite of a large minority of Republicans in New Castle County, hatred of the Republicans and their policies of racial equality, ran high throughout the rest of the state. There were years when the Republicans were unable to elect anyone to the General Assembly and years when they did not even bother to nominate a candidate for Governor.

Biggs was nominated to run for Governor in 1886, and fortunately for him, it was the last year such a disparity existed between the parties. For the last time there was no Republicans candidate, and he received only the token opposition of the Temperance Reform Party candidate, James R. Hoffecker, whom he defeated easily. Biggs served from January 18, 1887 until January 20, 1891. Two years later the Republicans began their long road back and took advantage of splits in the Democratic leadership to elect a small majority in the State House. Meanwhile Biggs did as countless governors before him, and pleaded with the General Assembly for all kinds of reform, including better representation for New Castle County, and reform of the voting procedures. And as usual, he was largely ignored, except for a provision to establish a State Hospital for the Insane, now the Delaware State Hospital at Farnhurst.

Delaware General Assembly (sessions while Governor)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1887–1888 84th Democratic John E. Collins Democratic William R. McCabe
1889–1890 85th Democratic Beniah L. Lewis Republican John H. Hoffecker

Images

  • Portrait courtesy of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Dover
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