David Hoffman and the Science of Jurisprudence

Letter to Justice Joseph Story, 1832

Joseph Story 1832 - Just one year before Hoffman was to sever his relationship with the University of Maryland he wrote to Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story to congratulate Story on the publication of his Law of Bailments. In this letter Hoffman attempts to elicit from Justice Story some advice on how to proceed in collecting the Supreme Court's judgment against Robert Oliver and others in the "Warren" case (see Supreme Court Case, 1830). A case that Hoffman refers to as "endless." This letter (one of nine in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society)* also suggests that David Hoffman was not shy about using his Maryland connections - communicating directly with fellow Marylander and Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Duvall about the case before it's final disposition.

Recommended resource: R. Kent Newmyer, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, Statesman of the Old Republic (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985).

March 23-1832

My Dear Sir,

When I received the volume1 you were so good as to send me I supposed you were still in Washington, and was surprised and pained to learn that you had passed through town considerably indisposed. I have read a very able review of your work and a considerable portion of the work itself. In great sincerity I am truly delighted with it. I expected from you an able production, but had some apprehension that you might not have bestowed sufficient time on it to make it suit your own views, - but I am delighted to find that it is up to my utmost wishes. I find a few typographical errors, but of no moment as regards the meaning. It is a work that will be in all hands, for it is a doctrine of intrinsic importance and a very popular one. Sir William's Essay2 is no more than a splendid coup d'oiel and certainly not to be relied on always for sound doctrine yours is a thorough treatise for the lawyer and civilian. I shall read it with great care and I am sure with great profit. There is one doctrine in the law I should like to see thoroughly treated. Do not be surprised to hear me say the Law of Interest (without that of usury). This law is spread throughout the law books and no where collected. It is a pretty extensive doctrine, and for dry law and practical utility in all the courts, I think a small volume could be written, and no one so able to accomplish it as yourself. You have, indeed, many other doctrines to comment on, and I trust the Commentary on the Law of Bailments, is only the initial volume of a Series.

I wrote you a letter supposing you were in Washington, enclosing some papers belonging to a Mr. [Whipple?] which I found in one of the numbers of my Legal Course. I suppose Mr. Maxcy3 will forward them to you franked. I also stated in the letter that the Commissioner in the Warren4 (that endless case) had by a mere accident so worded the decree as to throw the Costs on the Libelants instead of the Assignees in contradiction to the Courts express written order of the 17 Decr. I took it for granted that Judge Duval5 would at once order the mistake to be corrected as he admits that it is a mere blunder; but the old gentleman seemed to hesitate as he says there has been an appeal. I told him the appeal was wholly on the part of the Assignees and dismissed, and therefore the same as if the Assignees had merely rode to Washington and back again with the Record in their pocket, which surely could not deprive the Circuit Court of the power of amending a mere clerical error to make it conform to his written order to the Commissioner. What he will do I know not, but hoped he would have consulted the Judges, but the Court broke up somewhat I believe, in haste. The Bank of the US and Mr. Oliver6 will pay, but the obstinate Quaker President of the U B7 will not, as I believe, without execution, hoping to find some difficulty in making a Corporation pay, as they think the only process is by attachment for contempt, and they say the Corporation cannot be attached. Surely there must be some process in our Courts in the nature of Fieri Facias8. I have looked over the books and can get no light, but have found a work somewhat after the fashion of a Fi Fa! Can you give me some advice as the case is now forever out of your jurisdiction?

I am now steadily engaged in my Legal [course?]. If it is a fair question, what did you pay for your paper? It pleases me entirely and if I could get my volume printed in Boston would like to know what your work probably cost per volume. I hope you will soon get in good health.

Mrs. Hoffman unites with me in respectful remembrance to Mrs. Story and yourself.

Very Truly yours -

D. Hoffman


*Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcribed by Bill Sleeman. This letter is owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society which has granted permission for its transcribed reproduction. Requests to re-transmit, copy, quote or reproduce in any format, in whole or part, must be sought from the Society.

*Justice Joseph Story. Artist: George P.A. Healy, Collection of the United States Supreme Court.

  1. Commentaries on the Law of Bailments with Illustrations From the Civil and the Foreign Law by Joseph Story. The first edition of this work was published in 1832.
  2. Hoffman is referring to An Essay on the Law of Bailments by Sir William Jones (1746-1794) published in 1781. Until Story's publication the essay by Jones was the standard work on the topic followed in the United States.
  3. Virgil Maxcy (1785-1844). A Maryland native Maxcy served in Andrew Jackson's administration as the first Solicitor General of the U.S. Treasury. Maxcy would later serve as one of the compilers of Maryland statutes. Dictionary of American Biography.
  4. Hoffman's endless case was James Sheppard and Others vs. Lemuel Taylor and Others which had been in process for more then ten years and was heard twice by the Supreme Court - 30 U.S. 675 (1831) and 31 U.S. 143 (1832). The case involved a claim for back wages and interest by a group of seamen who, as a result of various intrigues, were captured and imprisoned by Spain for smuggling. Upon their release they began to assert their right to their wages. In the meantime the ship's owners had declared bankruptcy and assigned the ship and its cargo to several different local bankers and merchants. The question at issue, argued by Hoffman for the sailors and William Wirt and Roger B. Taney for the bankers, was whether or not the assignees of the Warren were responsible for paying the back wages of the sailors. Although the Supreme Court ruled that they were Hoffman's comments suggest that a year later the Warren's crew were still having problems collecting their pay.
  5. Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Duvall (1752-1844). here Hoffman spells fellow Marylander Duvall's name with one l which was a common variant of the Justice's name. See Cushman, Claire, Editor. The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789-1995. 2nd. Edition. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1995. p.81
  6. Robert Oliver (1757?-1834). Oliver was a successful Baltimore merchant and President of the Baltimore branch of the United States Bank. Dictionary of American Biography.
  7. Here Hoffman refers to the Union Bank in Baltimore, one of Andrew Jackson's "pet banks", whose President was Thomas Ellicott. See Walsh, Richard and William Lloyd Fox, Editors. Maryland: A History, 1632-1974, Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1974. p. 271
  8. "Fieri Facias: A writ of execution commanding the sheriff to levy and make the amount of a judgment from the goods and chattels of the judgement debtor." Black's Law Dictionary. 5th Edition.

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