John T. Hoffman

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John Thompson Hoffman
JohnTHoffman.png
23rd Governor of New York
In office
January 1, 1869 – December 31, 1872
Lieutenant Allen C. Beach
Preceded by Reuben E. Fenton
Succeeded by John Adams Dix
78th Mayor of New York City
In office
1866 – November 30, 1868
Preceded by Charles Godfrey Gunther
Succeeded by Thomas Coman
Personal details
Born (1828-01-10)January 10, 1828
Ossining, New York
Died March 24, 1888(1888-03-24) (aged 60)
Wiesbaden, Germany
Political party Democratic

John Thompson Hoffman (January 10, 1828 – March 24, 1888) was the 23rd Governor of New York (1869–72). He was also Recorder of New York City (1861–65) and the 78th Mayor of New York City (1866–68). Connections to the Tweed Ring ruined his political career, in spite of the absence of evidence to show personal involvement in corrupt activities.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Ossining in Westchester County, New York. His father, Adrian Kissam Hoffman, was a physician in Westchester County. His father's parents, Philip L. Hoffman and Helena Kissam, were "among the most valuable members of early society in New York, and the founders of many public charities and benevolent works," Harper's Weekly effused.[1]

He attended Union College starting in 1843 in the junior class, but had to leave for a time due to ill health, eventually graduating in 1846. He then studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1849 and set up shop in Manhattan.[1]

High hopes of reformers[edit]

When he was elected mayor in 1865, reformers had high hopes for him. A front-page article in Harper's Weekly intoned:

It is many years since the city of New York has chosen for her Chief Magistrate a man of the position and reputation of John T. Hoffman. He is not only a gentleman of high social position, but a lawyer of distinction, a judge of eminent probity, a representative by descent of some of the oldest New York families, a citizen of unblemished reputation ...[1]

Guilt by association[edit]

Gubernatorial portrait of New York Governor John T. Hoffman.

Hoffman was elected governor in 1868, the last New York City Mayor to accomplish this feat and the last New York City Mayor elected to higher office. Hoffman's election was aided by Tammany Hall under the leadership of its boss William Tweed. Later on the fact that Hoffman had aid from Tweed, and his voter majority was so large for that time, would be recalled as proof that the Governor was a member of the notorious Tweed Ring.

In actuality, while Tweed did frequently see Hoffman in Albany on various votes and projects, it was no more than any other major Democrat in New York State. But they worked harmoniously together, and Tweed aided Hoffman in getting re-elected in 1870. Shortly afterwards a new City Charter was enacted which granted more local autonomy to New York City. Such reform had been discussed for decades, but Tweed with Hoffman brought it to fruition. But just at this point Tweed's corruption began being revealed in The New York Times and Harper's Weekly, and the new Charter was discredited as being planned for more municipal corruption. At this time Hoffman was also considering seriously to run for the Presidency in 1872, and Tweed was to be his manager. Tweed, in actuality, had little interest in national affairs (he had been a Congressman for a single term in the 1850s), and while he might have considered the possible corruption pickings greater he also was aware of the bad publicity such scandals had brought on the Grant Administration. Whoever ran for President in 1872 would face Grant running for re-election. As it turned out, the Tweed scandals wrecked Hoffman's chances and the nomination eventually was split between those Democrats supporting liberal Republican Horace Greeley and those supporting the "pure" Democrat, New York attorney Charles O'Conor. Hoffman, his reputation ruined by the connections with Tweed, did not seek further political offices.

Death[edit]

Hoffman died at Wiesbaden, Germany on March 24, 1888, aged 60.[2] He was buried at Dale Cemetery in Ossining.

Legacy[edit]

  • Hoffman Island is named for him.
  • Hoffman was one of only two Mayors of New York City to become Governor of New York, the other was DeWitt Clinton.
  • In the movie version of the musical Up in Central Park, the character of Hoffman appears, but the name is changed to "Governor Motley" and is played by actor Thurston Hall.
  • Hoffman Street in the Bronx is named for him.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "John T. Hoffman, Mayor-Elect of New York City". Harper's Weekly. December 23, 1865. Retrieved April 18, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Death Of Ex-Gov. Hoffman. Stricken By Heart Disease In A Foreign Land. Sketch Of His Life. How He Became Prominent In Politics And Suddenly Sank Into Oblivion". New York Times. March 25, 1888. Retrieved April 18, 2011. Ex-Gov. John T. Hoffman died suddenly of heart disease yesterday morning at Wiesbaden, Germany. His death was announced to Edward R. Johnes of the law firm of Johnes, Willcox Purdy, with which the ex-Governor had been connected for the past year or two, by ... 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kenneth D. Ackerman, Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York. New York: Carroll & Graf, Publishers, 2005, 2006. ISBN 0-7867-1686-X.
  • Leo Hershkovitz, Tweed's New York: Another Look. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1977. ISBN 0-385-07656-8.
  • David Quigley, Second Founding: New York City, Reconstruction, and the Making of American Democracy. New York: Hill & Wang/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. ISBN 0-8090-8514-3. This meaty little book discusses the conflicts between the political parties in New York State regarding constitutional changes in the 1860s and 1870s. Hoffman is discussed on pages 9, 60-61, 63-65, 78, 87, and 94.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
George G. Barnard
Recorder of New York City
1861 – 1865
Succeeded by
John K. Hackett
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Godfrey Gunther
Mayor of New York City
1866 – 1868
Succeeded by
Thomas Coman
Preceded by
Reuben Fenton
Governor of New York
1869 – 1872
Succeeded by
John Adams Dix