James Callender Reveals All The Founders' Secrets
James Callender was an American Founder who’s pen started several early scandals.
Callender attacked both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in the press, making some very powerful enemies in the process.
By the time James Callender arrived in the United States, the Revolutionary War had been won, the Constitution written, and George Washington sworn in as President.
This did not prevent Callender from leaving his mark on the Founding of America.
Quite the opposite, actually, as James would be the most influential journalist of the first three presidential administrations.
When James Callender arrived on American soil, he had already caused quite a stir in jolly old England.
Callender had published a pamphlet criticizing certain taxes (from within Great Britain, not the colonial ones that started the American Revolution).
The trouble he caused made him a target of the King. James was forced to flee, first to Ireland then the United States.
After his arrival, Callender found work in publishing.
His attitudes were far more democratic than most other Founders were ready to hear, but he did gain a following with the bulk of the Democratic-Republican base. This brought him to the attention of Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson began quietly funding Callender’s pamphlets.
Callender became the most famous (or perhaps infamous) critic of the Federalist Party.
He brought to light the Reynolds Affair, Alexander Hamilton’s embarrassing amorous engagement with a woman who was not his wife. This hurt Hamilton’s image and took him out of nation politics for a time.
Callender proceeded to stringently criticism President John Adams. This was about the time of the Quasi-War with France and was considered near treason by the Federalists.
When Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Callender was one of his main targets.
James was arrested and held in prison for almost a year due to his attacks on the administration.
Callender’s rabble rousing had cast serious doubts on Adams’ presidency and (in the opinion of several historians) helped usher in Jefferson’s victory in the Election of 1800.
On his first day in office, Jefferson pardoned Callender.
James, feeling that he was owed something for his troubles, asked Jefferson to institute him as Port Collector for Richmond, Virginia.
Jefferson refused this position to Callender for several reasons, most importantly was that Richmond was a Federalist stronghold and putting James there would rock the boat more than the President wanted.
Callender was angry (he was known for his temper), so he decided to use his ability with the written word to attack Jefferson.
James switched parties and became a Federalist. He began to expose the President’s secrets.
First, he acknowledged Jefferson had been paying him to criticize Washington’s decisions while still the acting Secretary of State.
Next, he discussed how Jefferson’s relationship with his lifelong best friend was destroyed when the President was a younger man. Thomas had made moves on his friend, John Walker’s, wife Betsy.
Finally, Callender was the first person to discuss Jefferson’s affair with his slave Sally Hemings. He was also the first one to point out that the two had several children together.
Jefferson was able to sneak his way out of Callender’s attacks, mostly by discrediting him as a journalist (although almost everything James said turned out to be true).
Callender was now disliked by both the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Always a heavy drinker, he took to the bottle.
Twelve years after landing in the United States, James Callender was founded dead in three feet of water in the James River. His body was unharmed, and the conclusion is he drank so heavily one night that he fell in and was too intoxicated to stand up.
Do you want to learn about other Founding Scandals?
Want to get fun American Revolution articles straight to your inbox every morning?
Subscribe to my email list here.
You can also support this site on Patreon by clicking here.
Want to read a great book about James Callender?
‘Scandalmonger’ is a fun book about his life. While it is a novel, the author has a sourced section at the end which discusses what is fact and what has been dramatized. Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).