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.