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James Thomson Callender

  • Birth 1758 Scotland
  • Death 17 Jul 1803 Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, USA
  • Burial Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, USA
  • Memorial ID 29049969

Journalist, Political Pamphleteer. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries he was known as a political pamphleteer and newspaper writer. He acquired no formal education during his years in Scotland, but by the age of 30 he had developed a talent for political protest and the writing of incendiary articles and pamphlets against the British Crown. He had to flee Scotland in 1793 or face trial for sedition. He sought asylum in America where he understood that there would be no barriers to his expression of opinion. He chose to settle in Philadelphia, the seat of the newly developing American government. For the next decade he was to play a strange, but a most consequential role in the politics of the new Republic. He supported himself as a journalist and political propagandist. He had an extreme distrust for Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's pro-British foreign policy views and set out to destroy him. He published evidence that Hamilton was having an adulterous affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds. Then he accused Hamilton of misusing the treasury's funds. Hamilton acknowledged the affair but claimed that the corruption charges were just blackmail. Hamilton's reputation was tarnished and he never again held a public office. By 1798 Callender's wife had died of yellow fever and his success was rapidly declining. He abandoned his children and fled Philadelphia for Richmond, Virginia. Hamilton, however, was able to gain some level of satisfaction when his Federalist party was able to push the Sedition Act through Congress. This ill-advised act made it illegal to make malicious or slanderous s attacks on the president or the government. When Callender was indicted and convicted under the law in 1800 he was fined $200 and sentenced to nine months in jail. Thomas Jefferson was president when he was released from prison and he fully expected to be appointed as the Postmaster of Richmond. Callender had supported Jefferson who, in turn, had provided Callender with financial support with his slanderous pamphlets. When Jefferson refused to make the appointment, Callender went to work as the editor of the Richmond Recorder, a Federalist newspaper. He published letters from Jefferson proving that Jefferson had financed his pamphleteering. When Jefferson supporters counter attacked he broke the story that Jefferson had fathered children by his slave, Sally Hennings. When that scandal died down, he published stories of Jefferson's attempt to seduce a married neighbor decades earlier, to which Jefferson admitted. Although he was extremely popular with newspaper readers many of his allies turned against him and one of his lawyers clubbed him in the head with a walking stick. His hatred for Jefferson and his drinking became so obsessive that on a July night in 1803 in a drunken stupor he drowned in three feet of water in the James River. In 1990 Michael Durey, an Australian wrote Callender's biography in a book called "With the Hammer of Truth, James Thomson Callender." In 2001 the noted American author and columnist, William Safire wrote a historical novel, "Scandalmonger," based on Callender's life.

Bio by: Tom Todd





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Tom Todd
  • Added: 15 Aug 2008
  • Find A Grave Memorial 29049969
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for James Thomson Callender (1758–17 Jul 1803), Find A Grave Memorial no. 29049969, citing Saint Johns Episcopal Churchyard, Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .