James Biddle was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he attended the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating, he entered service in the United States Navy as a MIdshipman in 1800. Biddle served in the war against the Barbary pirates. The ship he was in, USS Philadelphia, struck rocks off Tripoli, and along with his Commodore, William Bainbridge, he was kept imprisoned by the pirates for 19 months. During the War of 1812, Biddle was a First Lieutenant on USS Wasp. After this, he was in command of the sloop USS Hornet.
After the war, Biddle performed various duties in the Gulf of Mexico, the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean. In 1830, Biddle and US consul David Offly negotiated and concluded a treaty with the Sublime Porte. In December 1845, Biddle exchanged ratifications of the Treaty of Wanghia at Poon Tong, the first treaty between China and the United States. On July 20, 1846, he anchored with the two warships USS Columbus and USS Vincennes in Uraga Channel at the mouth to Edo Bay in an attempt to open up Japan to trade with the United States, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Biddle died in Philadelphia and is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground in the family plot.