David Hoffman and the Science of Jurisprudence

Political Career, 1843

1843 - In addition to his legal and teaching career David Hoffman was also an active participant in both Baltimore and national politics, first as a Federalist and later as a Whig. As a member of the Federalist party in1812 Hoffman -- along with the Revolutionary war hero "Light Horse" Henry Lee, local firebrand Alexander Contee Hanson and others --was involved in a pitched street battle with those who supported President Madison's declaration of war. (1) Later still, Hoffman would take part in the nation's first presidential convention in Baltimore, serving as one of the Presidential electors for the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison. (2)

While it has been maintained that Hoffman was "too self righteous" for politics he did in fact enjoy an active, albeit low profile, influence that might have grown into more had he acted earlier. (3) In 1841 President Tyler and Webster offered Hoffman the opportunity to serve as a Commissioner to Mexico,an opportunity Hoffman turned down.(4) By the time Hoffman next sought a political appointment in the foreign service, President Harrison had already died, and Hoffman had lost what little political capital he might have had. That Hoffman was aware of his attenuated connection to new President John Tyler andWebster is particularly apparent in thecautious, almost pleading , nature ofHoffman’s request (reprinted below)for a foreign mission post. (5) Of the two posts that Hoffman sought,Spain and Austria, the first was held by Washington Irving (1840-1846) while the second was not filled during Webster's tenure. (6)

Hoffman probably did not help himself in his application to Webster for the Austrian mission by citing personal reasons for desiring the position and all the while maintaining that the President had "assured him"an appointment once a position came open. (7) Hoffman's approach to Webster again shows how his self absorbed personality often hindered his own efforts. Convinced that he had been promised the position outright Hoffman assumed that his legal training and past political activities qualified him for the appointment.Hoffman was unable to see how little qualified he really was for a position that, given the escalating tension with Austria over Hungarian independence, would have required a high degree of circumspection and patience - personal traits that Hoffman lacked.


1. Robert J. Brugger, Maryland a Middle Temperament, 1634-1980. (Baltimore: Published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, in association with the Maryland Historical Society, 1986). 178. [return to text]

2. Cordell, Eugene, University of Maryland, 1807-1907. (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1907?), 347.

3. Calcott, George H. , A History of the University of Maryland. (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1966), 35.[return to text]

4. Harold D. Moser, Editor, The Papers of Daniel Webster, Correspondence, 1840-1843. (Hanover, Dartmouth College, University Press of New England, 1982), 5: 412. The letter is mentioned in the calendar of 1841.

5. David Hoffman, "Letter to Daniel Webster, Feb. 1, 1843". Microfilm version of the Papers of Daniel Webster. The Library of Congress, Special Collections.

6. For a discussion ofDaniel Webster's various appointments see volume one, series three ofThe Papers of Daniel Webster, Diplomatic Papers (1841-1843).[return to text]

7. Ibid.

[Feb. 1, 1843]

D. Hoffman - private file

To The Honorable-Private-
Daniel Webster

Dear Sir,

I suppose you are always too much occupied to read long letters - and yet I believe you have
sufficient interest in me to read one, were I thus to trespass but I shall be short. All about my
wishes and disappointments as to the Austrian and Spanish missions are well known to you.
Soon after that, I received a kind message from you through a friend, that, after a time I might
value upon a full mission - that of the Spanish mission, I was also assured by the President that,
in two years from the date of several previous missions, there would be vacancies;and a
message was conveyed to me, through Dr. Conway, now at [Fallcha...], expressive of Mr. Tyler’s
interest inme, and that at the expiration of the two years, I might value upon Austria - that being
my first love. I called on the President a few days after, and thanked him for that message. Since
which I have reposed in quiet expectation of the lapse of time.

Now, my dear Sir, my nature would revolt at the slightest attempt at supplanting any order.-I
value on that, only because it was stated that originally that mission, and, another, I believe, were
designated to terminate in the two years. The time now being nearly expired - and certain rumors
being now afloat, I feel myself justified in mentioning my wishes to you - and to express to you
my continued reliance on your good wishes, and my confidence in your disposition to serve me.
My anxiety for a mission arises from my long withdrawal from my profession- the heaviness of
time to me, without a working occupation - my desire to finish a work, the last volume of which I
feel as if I could not accomplish here -, and, above all, that of my only child's health, which
strongly requires a change of climate.

Not less than three years have been greatly devoted to politics; and now some more permanent
plan of life,than counting those years, is essential to me. Should I learn, at once, that I have a
sure ground of expectation, that assurance would at least relieve me from the pain of uncertainty-
but the other, I confess, would be the accomplishment of a long abridged desire.

With Sincere Regards
I am,
Dear Sir,
Very Truly Yours

David Hoffman

Baltimore, February 4, 1843

*David Hoffman, "Letter to Daniel Webster, Feb. 1, 1843". Microfilm version of the Papers of Daniel Webster. The Library of Congress, Special Collections.

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