Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from James Thomson Callender, 28 September 1797

From James Thomson Callender

Philadelphia Septr. 28th. 1797.

Sir

I expect that your remaining numbers of the History of 1796 have come duly to hand. The other copy will be ready for you on your return to town.

I would not have intruded on you at this time about that; but am to request your indulgence for a few moments. I have begun another volume on American History; and it will be ready for the press in about a month. Having been in bad health, for a time, now better, having by the desertion of the town been reduced to some inconvenience, and having a small family, I laid my plan before M. Leiper and M. Dallas, who handsomely gave me most effectual assistance, till the time of printing and Selling the book.

In this dilemma, I recollected something that dropt from you, when I had the honour of seeing you at Francis’s hotel. It related to Some assistance, in a pecuniary way, that you intended to make me, on finishing my next volume. Now, Sir, my design at present is to hint that, in the present dreadful situation of the town, if the matter in reserve could be made in advance, it would really treble the greatness of the favour. If it was a draft or Check for 5 or 10 dollars, say, it might be in favour of a third person, my name not being very proper to appear; vizt. “Mr. James Ronaldson,” a particular friend of mine.

I hope in a few months to be (if I escape the fever) much less dependent than I have been upon my pen. Bookselling is at present in an entirely ruined State, otherwise my two last volumes would have put me far beyond the need of asking help. Your answer to me, to be left at the Post office till called for, will much oblige Sir Your very much obliged & humble Servant

Jas. Thomson Callender

P.S. Since the printing of Mr. Hamilton’s Observations Bishop White has, in a public Company, declined to drink his health, assigning the pamphlet as a reason. If you have not seen it, no anticipation can equal the infamy of this piece. It is worth all that fifty of the best pens in America Could have said against him, and the most pitiful part of the whole is his notice of you.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 6 Oct. 1797 and so recorded in SJL.

James Thomson Callender (1758–1803), a native of Scotland, came to the United States in 1793 to escape prosecution for sedition when his authorship of the pamphlet The Political Progress of Britain became known. Settling in Philadelphia, Callender served as a stenographer recording the debates in the House of Representatives for Andrew Brown’s Philadelphia Gazette from December 1793 to February 1796, when he was dismissed, having gained the enmity not only of Federalist congressmen but many Republicans as well. After a brief period in Baltimore, Callender returned to Philadelphia and became part of the circle of Republican propagandists, including John Beckley, James Carey, William Duane, Dr. James Reynolds, and Benjamin F. Bache. He was also befriended by Thomas Leiper, the wealthy Republican tobacco merchant and fellow emigré from Scotland, and lawyer Alexander J. Dallas. TJ and Callender probably met for the first time in June 1797 at Callender’s publishers, Snowden and McCorkle, when TJ made his first recorded payment to Callender for the forthcoming History of the United States for 1796, the publication which made Callender a celebrity for the Republican cause. Between January 1794 and July 1798, Callender regularly wrote pieces for Bache’s Aurora published under the heading “From a Correspondent.” Bache being absent from Philadelphia, Callender probably had editorial charge of the newspaper in March 1798 when it advocated the publication of the dispatches from the American envoys to France. The communications included descriptions of French solicitation of bribes that, when read by the public, would lead to the XYZ affair and the subsequent passage of the alien and sedition acts. Upon passage of the Sedition Act, Callender fled to Virginia to avoid prosecution, staying for several months at Raspberry Plain, Steven T. Mason’s home in Loudoun County, before moving to Petersburg. He began writing for the Republican Richmond Examiner and in early 1800 published the first volume of The Prospect Before Us, an attack on the Adams administration that served as an important pamphlet in the presidential campaign. It also led to Callender’s prosecution and conviction under the Sedition Act, with the partisan Federalist justice Samuel Chase presiding at the trial. Callender received a $200 fine and a jail sentence that ended with the expiration of the sedition law on 3 Mch. 1801. Writing from his jail cell, Callender became a martyr for the Republican cause. Upon TJ’s election to the presidency, Callender expected some reward for his endeavours, such as the postmastership at Richmond with its $1,500 a year stipend. When an appointment was not forthcoming, he felt betrayed. In early 1802, in partnership with the Federalist newspaper editor Henry Pace, Callender began attacking the Republican establishment in Virginia in articles in the Richmond Recorder, culminating with his attacks on the president. One of these was the first accusation in print of TJ’s liaison with Sally Hemings. In 1803 Callender once again experienced declining popularity and acrimoniously broke with Pace and the Recorder. On 17 July 1803, Callender’s body was found in the James River. While accounts of his intoxication that day led to an official report of accidental drowning, a letter by Callender published several weeks later suggested that he had taken his own life (ANB; description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends Durey, Callender, description begins Michael Durey, “With the Hammer of Truth”: James Thomson Callender and America’s Early National Heroes, (Charlottesville, 1990) description ends 51, 60–4, 74–8, 101, 106–7, 110–11, 143; Charles A. Jellison, “That Scoundrel Callender,” in VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893- description ends , lxvii [1959], 295–306; Madison, Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962– , 26 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 4 vols. description ends xv, 155; same, Sec. of State Ser., i, 118–19; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 963, 1028; James M. Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties [Ithaca, 1956], 334–58; DHSC description begins Maeva Marcus and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States 1789–1800, New York, 1985–2007, 8 vols. description ends , iii, 405, 435–6; Callender to TJ, 26 Oct. 1798).

Probably in response to Callender’s request for some assistance in advance of his publication of Sketches of the History of America (Philadelphia, 1798), TJ asked John Barnes, on 8 Oct., to pay him $20 for pamphlets (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , ii, 971). For Callender’s dire financial state during the months ahead, see Durey, Callender, description begins Michael Durey, “With the Hammer of Truth”: James Thomson Callender and America’s Early National Heroes, (Charlottesville, 1990) description ends 104–6.

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