Benjamin T. Biggs
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|Benjamin T. Biggs|
|46th Governor of Delaware|
January 18, 1887 – January 20, 1891
|Preceded by||Charles C. Stockley|
|Succeeded by||Robert J. Reynolds|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Delaware's At-large district
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1873
|Preceded by||John A. Nicholson|
|Succeeded by||James R. Lofland|
October 1, 1821|
Cecil County, Maryland
|Died||December 25, 1893
|Alma mater||Wesleyan University|
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.
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 210 North Cass Street in Middletown, Delaware and were members of the Methodist Church.
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.
United States Congress
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.
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|
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.
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.
|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|
|1869–1871||41st||U.S. House||Republican||Ulysses S. Grant||at-large|
|1871–1873||42nd||U.S. House||Republican||Ulysses S. Grant||at-large|
|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%|
- Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company.
- Hancock, Harold Bell. (1961). Delaware during the Civil War. Wilmington, Delaware: Historical Society of Delaware. ISBN 0-924117-24-9.
- Hoffecker, Carol E. (2004). Democracy in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books. ISBN 1-892142-23-6.
- Martin, Roger A. (1984). History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press.
- Wilson, Emerson. (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Deltos Publishing Company.
- Hall of Governors Portrait Gallery; Portrait courtesy of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Dover
- Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Find a Grave
- Delaware’s Governors
- The Political Graveyard
- Delaware Historical Society
- University of Delaware Library