REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
BY THE EDITOR.
This gentleman, who has been for so many years United States District Judge for the District of California, was born in the city of New York, October 16th, 1822. His ancestors were from Holland, and were among the earliest settlers of New Amsterdam. His father, Hon. Ogden Hoffman, was long one of the most influential leaders of the Whig party. He possessed the graces and powers of oratory in a wonderful degree; was unrivalled as a debator, and “proudly eminent” on the hustings. He was one of the most accomplished lawyers of the Empire State, his fame eclipsing even that of his father, Josiah Ogden Hoffman. At the time of his death, in May, 1853, a meeting of the New York bar was held, at which Wm. M. Evarts and others, who had witnessed his forensic triumphs and his able management of great civil and criminal causes, paid feeling tributes to the nobility of his nature, the greatest of his mind, and the fullness of his learning.
Mr. Hoffman, our subject, graduated from Columbia College in 1840, and determined to prepare himself for the bar. He studied law at Dane Law School, Harvard University, for about two years, under Judge Story and Simon Greenleaf. He afterwards read law under Mark Sibley, of Canandaigua, New York, and under Benjamin D. Stillman, of New York city. After being admitted, he spent nearly two years in foreign travel; returning, opened an office in New York city, and practiced law for two or three years.
Mr. Hoffman arrived at San Francisco, May 16th, 1850, and entered immediately on the practice of law. He had not been in his home a year when, in March, 1851, President Fillmore appointed him United States District Judge for the Northern District of California—Mr. Hoffman being then twenty-eight years of age.
There were several weighty reasons which nearly moved the young appointee to decline the proffered honor. Recognizing in the appointment a graceful compliment to his father (who had long been the warm friend and supporter of Mr. Fillmore) and being young and inexperienced, he hesitated to accept the responsibilities of a position for which he felt himself unqualified; moreover, litigation was rife at that day in San Francisco, and his prospects were flattering to acquire an ample reward for his labors in the profession. But, being urged by his friends and advised by his father, he assumed the ermine, and (it is not undue praise to say it) though he has many times regretted his acceptance of the office, the people of California are grateful that he did accept.
As District Judge—a position which he has held for a period of eighteen years—he has distinguished himself, and won an enviable reputation among the people of his adopted State for his integrity and learning. Upon him has devolved, in a large degree, the settlement of the conflicting land titles of the State, in controversies existing between the Federal Government and claimants under Mexican grants. His decisions, while they have uniformly been sound and impartial, have not only given stability to titles, but they have acquired the confidence and commanded the respect of the whole community. In all the varied duties of the bench over which he presides, he has exemplified a high degree of capacity and intelligence; and the opinions which he has delivered from time to time are being made the subject of a forthcoming publication of Reports, which is anxiously looked for by the public, besides a volume of land cases already issued.
Judge Hoffman possesses classical attainments of a high order, and is a fine linguist. The EDITOR has heard him declare in conversation his belief that it is impossible for any person, no matter how studious and talented, to master any language except his own. He speaks French, has some knowledge of other modern tongues, and there is probably no more accomplished Greek and Latin scholar in California. He is a constant reader, a most agreeable conversationalist, and possesses a memory retentive, and enriched with gleanings from a wide range of eclectic information and classic lore.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 535-537.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.