Biffle: Remembering the man beyond the bronze

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Vice President Alben W. Barkley unveiled the bust of Leslie L. Biffle (right) during "Les Biffle Day" at the Piggott Fourth of July Picnic on July 4, 1949. The bust was sculpted by Felix de Weldon. It now sits in the lobby of the Piggott Post Office. (Piggott Banner photo)

Many area residents have walked past his face numerous times in the Piggott Post Office, but most may not realize the significance of the man who was the subject of the bronze bust in the lobby.

Leslie L. Biffle was truly a small town boy who made good. He was born on Oct. 9, 1889, in Boydsville. It was a long road from Boydsville to Washington, D.C.

His father, Billie B. Biffle, was a merchant and a Democratic politician. The elder Biffle, according to the July 1, 1949, issue of The Piggott Banner, served as sheriff for Clay County from 1888 to 1890 and county clerk and circuit clerk from 1892 to 1896 (note, the two offices were not separated until the 1900 census). At that point, the county was relatively new. Clay County was organized as Clayton County on March 24, 1883.

The family moved to Piggott when Leslie was just a boy. He attended the Piggott schools and later pursued his education at Keys Business Institute in Little Rock.

His mother, Ella Turner Biffle, died when he was 10-years-old, according to most accounts. Years later, her photo sat on his desk in Washington, D.C.

In 1909, he left Arkansas for the nation's capital to be a secretary to Congressman Bruce Macon. From that point on, with the exception of the period from 1917-1919 when he served as an auditor for the War Department in France, Biffle was a fixture on capitol hill.

From 1916 to 1925, minus his time in France, he served as superintendent of the Senate folding room. In 1925, he was called back to the Senate proper and became the assistant secretary to the majority. In 1933, Biffle was elected secretary of the majority for the Democratic Party.

Soon thereafter, he met a young Senator from Missouri named Harry S. Truman. The two would become good friends.

Approximately 10 years later, Truman was selected as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's running mate on the presidential ticket in July of 1944. The following January, he took the vice-presidential oath and quickly found himself as the leader of the nation following F.D.R.'s death on April 12, 1945.

Biffle served as the secretary of the majority until the beginning of 1945.

He served as the Secretary of the United States Senate twice. He was first elected to the post on Feb. 8, 1945, a mere matter of weeks before Truman would ascend to the presidency.

When Truman was up against Dewey in the famed election where results were announced incorrectly, Biffle wanted to know which way farmers would be voting. It is said he disguised himself as a chicken farmer, donned old clothes and bought an old Model A truck. Then he drove through several states selling poultry and eggs and polling the people he met along the way. When he returned to Washington he told Truman the vote was in his favor.

He ended his first term of service as Secretary of the U.S. Senate in 1947, when he began serving as the secretary to the Democratic Policy Committee, a position he filled until 1949, when he returned to serve as Secretary of the United States Senate once more. Biffle retired from the post in 1953 when the Republicans gained control of the Senate.

Piggott paid special tribute to Biffle by renaming the July 4, 1949, Piggott Fourth of July Picnic "Les Biffle Day". Distinguished guests in town for the weekend of events included Gov. Sid McMath of Arkansas, Gov. Roy Turner of Oklahoma, Senator John L. McLellan, Senator J. William Fulbright, Congressman E.C. Gathings, Congressman Boyd Tackett, U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark, U.S. Commissioner of Education Earl McGrath, Lieutenant Governor Nathan Gordon of Arkansas, Secretary of State C.G. Hall, Attorney General Ike Murry, NBC News Commentator Morgan Beatty and sculptor Felix de Weldon. Miss Frances Greer, a Metropolitan Opera star who was born in Piggott, and her husband, Victor Trucco, also made several performances throughout the weekend. President Truman was unable to attend the event, but sent his best wishes with his assistant, John R. Steelman.

The whirlwind weekend included a reception at the home of Karl and Matilda Pfeiffer, a testimonial luncheon and the unveiling of the bronze bust at the picnic. Seventy-five U.S. Navy planes flew over the picnic grounds in various formations as Biffle was honored. Vice President Alben W. Barkley was on hand to unveil the bust at the picnic.

Biffle died of double pneumonia at age 76 on April 6, 1966, in Washington, D.C.

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