I am really mortified at the base ingratitude of Callender. it presents human nature in a hideous form: it gives me concern because I percieve that relief, which was afforded him on mere motives of charity, may be viewed under the aspect of employing him as a writer…
soon after I was elected to the government, Callender came on here, wishing to be made postmaster at Richmond. I knew him to be totally unfit for it: and however ready I was to aid him with my own charities (and I then gave him 50. D.) I did not think the public offices confided to me to give away as charities. he took it in mortal offence, & from that moment has been hauling off to his former enemies the federalists.
To James Monroe, July 15, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Charitable leaders know sincere motives can backfire.
In the mid-1790s, Jefferson first learned of James Callender by reputation, a Scottish immigrant and political writer of some standing who was persecuted by England. Jefferson approved of Callender’s work and gave him money to buy more of his writing. Subsequent anti-British writing did not measure up, but he turned his pen against the Federalist administration, earning Jefferson’s encouragement and support. Eventually, Callender was jailed under President Adams’ Sedition Act. Jefferson contributed more small amounts to his support and to pay his fine.
When Jefferson became President, Callender demanded the job as Postmaster at Richmond, VA, as his reward for attacking the political opposition. Jefferson refused him as “totally unfit” for the job and gave him $50 as personal charity, but political appointments were not his to give away as government charity. Callender took “mortal offense” and turned his poisoned pen against Jefferson.
Callender threatened Jefferson with the release of damaging information unless he was named Postmaster. Jefferson claimed he had nothing to fear. Later in 1802, Callender published allegations that the President had fathered children by one of his slaves, later identified as Sally Hemings.
A year after this letter, Callender, who was given to alcohol, fell into the James River and drowned in water three feet deep.