Tag Archives: Sally Hemings

I wish I had never heard of this guy!

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.

“Your (Thomas Jefferson’s) presentation entitled “The History of Refrigeration”
was well received … Again, a heartfelt thank you …
Conferences and Seminars Manager, Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
If Mr. Jefferson can wax eloquent on refrigeration, he can speak to your interests, too.
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I admit one indiscretion. I deny the rest.

The inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln will so fully explain it’s own object, that I need say nothing in that way. I communicate it to particular friends because I wish to stand with them on the ground of truth, neither better nor worse than that makes me. you will percieve that I plead guilty to one of their charges, that when young & single I offered love to a handsome lady. I acknolege it’s incorrectness; it is the only one, founded in truth among all their allegations against me … [I count] you among those whose esteem I value too much to risk it by silence.
To Robert Smith, July 1, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What is a leader to do with a mess like this?
In late 1802, political writer James Callender, who had been encouraged by Jefferson just a few years earlier, now turned on his benefactor. Chief among Callender’s charges was that the President kept a slave concubine at Monticello, had initiated the relationship with her 15 years earlier in France, and fathered several children with her. She was not identified specifically at the time, but the woman was Sally Hemings. Callender also wrote of a Jefferson indiscretion with a married neighbor more than 30 years before.

These allegations and others became fodder for opposition politicians and were circulated widely during and after the 1804 elections. Although Jefferson never addressed the accusations publicly, he wanted a few close friends to know the truth. Robert Smith was one of those friends.

Jefferson admitted that as a young single man, he had propositioned a neighbor’s wife and “acknolege[d] it’s incorrectness.” He also wrote that of “all their allegations against me,” it was the only one “founded in truth.” Admitting to this one, he denied the others, including the charges involving Sally Hemings.

The “inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln,” his Attorney General, has not been found. Apparently, it offered a much fuller explanation. All that’s left is this cover note to Smith.

“Having you as a special surprise guest … turned out to be an excellent idea …
a pleasant and refreshingly different aspect …”
FOCUS on Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine Conference
Refreshingly different! That’s Thomas Jefferson!
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I admit it. I was wrong.

The inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln will so fully explain it’s own object, that I need say nothing in that way. I communicate it to particular friends because I wish to stand with them on the ground of truth, neither better nor worse than that makes me. you will percieve that I plead guilty to one of their charges, that when young & single I offered love to a handsome lady. I acknolege it’s incorrectness; it is the only one, founded in truth among all their allegations against me.
To Robert Smith, July 1, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders do well to come clean.
Jefferson had been reelected to his second term as President. The opposition Federalist Party was beaten back even more in 1804. Federalist fury might have prompted the publishing of an unsigned attack on Jefferson in a Boston newspaper. It accused Jefferson on many fronts, including allegations raised by journalist James Callendar several years before. Those charges claimed the President had a sexual relationship with a slave, Sally Hemings, and children from that union.

Jefferson made no public response to the accusations, as was his custom. He did address them in private correspondence to trusted friends, as was also his custom. In this revelatory letter to his Navy Secretary, Jefferson dismissed all other charges of inappropriate personal behavior by admitting to the one area where he was guilty. In 1768, when he was 25 and single, he made an improper advance to Mrs. John Walker, the wife of a friend and neighbor. She rebuffed him. The matter remained private for nearly 30 years, when the Walkers released a highly exaggerated account.

Jefferson never addressed the Sally Hemings allegations directly. Indirectly, and privately, he denied them on several occasions. This is the best known example. He admitted he was wrong in his behavior toward Mrs. Walker and said that was ” the only one, founded in truth among all their allegations against me.”

The “inclosed copy of a letter to mr lincoln,” which Jefferson referenced, might have brought more clarity. That letter has never been found.

Mr. Jefferson pledges to address any questions your audience might ask.
No holds barred.
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1 Comment Posted in Morality, Sally Hemings, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , |

What evil lurks in the hearts of men?*

I must ask the favor of you to call on mr Callender & to inform him that I have recieved his letter; that his fine will be remitted, but that as it requires the presence of the head of the department, it cannot be done till his arrival, which will be in a very few days. the moment he is here & qualified, it shall be dispatched.
To George Jefferson, March 4, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Not all of a leader’s supporters are friends.
Jefferson encouraged political writer James Callender to promote the Republican cause in the 1800 election, for which he was fined and jailed under President Adams’ Sedition Act. Upon release, he agitated for the return of his $200 fine. Jefferson promised the refund once procedural hurdles were satisfied. The delay rankled the irritable Callender, who took it as a personal affront.

Callender began to lobby for the job of postmaster in Richmond, VA, as recompense for what he had suffered at the hands of the Federalists. That lobbying eventually became near extortion, threatening President Jefferson with certain “facts” in his (Callender’s) possession if the job was not given to him. Jefferson did see to an eventual refund of the fine, but he ignored Callender’s threats.

Even more offended, James Callender published allegations of a sexual relationship between Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings. Callender’s attacks continued until July of 1803, when he drowned in three feet of water in the James River. The official cause was accidental, a result of intoxication.

According to the Founders Archives web site, this letter is the first one written by Thomas Jefferson on the day of his inauguration as President.

Callender’s allegations would plague Jefferson throughout his life and are given credence by some yet today.

*A famous line from Walter Gibson’s 1930s radio series, “The Shadow.”
 “Some of the comments we received … Very entertaining.
A good way to close out. Fun and Fitting, and Wow! What a Finish!”

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