Hoffman was born on Jan. 10, 1828 in what was then the Village of Sing Sing. His father, Adrian Hoffman was a distinguished physician and was unanimously elected village president multiple times.
John Hoffman graduated from Union College and became the recorder of New York City in 1860. The post had many judicial functions and in his first term, the political spotlight was turned on him when he successfully helped try and sentence the New York City draft rioters of 1863. He made such an impression with the New York City political powers that when he ran for re-election as recorder he easily won a second term.
Hoffman had the support of William Tweed and Tammany Hall, but he was unaware of their hunger for political power.
Tammany eyed Hoffman as their key to such an objective. Within a year of the start of Hoffman’s first mayoral term, he was pushed into being nominated for governor. He lost by less than two percent. Hoffman was re-elected mayor of New York in 1867, carrying every ward. In 1868, he was again nominated to run for governor, and was elected in November with 54.2 percent of the vote. He joined DeWitt Clinton as the only man to hold both major offices in New York state.
Nearly 10,000 of the votes cast in New York City were fraudulent votes. Nonetheless, the Tammany machine had elected their ‘puppet’ as governor of New York State. Tweed was elected state senator and grabbed leadership control of the state Legislature. Hoffman assumed the duties of governor, a tainted man.
Hoffman was in the center of a hornet’s nest, and he stunned Tammany by denouncing the organization. Their puppet turned vengeful. Meanwhile, Hoffman barely won re-election in 1870, carrying only 52 percent of the vote.
Hoffman effectively used his veto power against Tammany-endorsed measures. Still, Hoffman was dragged down along with the all the corrupt politicians of Tammany, with whom he had naively associated. That he weakly allowed himself to be used in such a way was his only fault.
He was cast aside by the Democratic State Convention in 1872 for re-nomination to a third term. Hoffman was politically ruined, and he left office a rejected and disappointed man, at the age of 45.
When he returned to become a private citizen, he quietly resumed his law practice in New York City, with little success. He occasionally took trips abroad, but as the years passed, he lived the life of a forgotten man. He died of a heart attack at age 60, on March 24, 1888.
Hoffman’s last journey was to return to Sing Sing, where he was buried in the family plot at Dale Cemetery.
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