12. Callender’s next scandal has resounded through American history to the present day
On September 1, 1802, James Callender published in the Recorder an article he titled, The President, Again. Its first two sentences have changed American history and its presentation of Thomas Jefferson ever since. “It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps, and for many years past has kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves. Her name is Sally”. Although the subject had been one of local gossip for many years, particularly in Virginia, it was its first appearance nationally. Callender went on to explain his reasons for denying the story in preceding years, when it was hinted at in Federalist newspapers. His rationale was self-serving and fraught with the flowery writing style of the day. He repeated the accusation, supporting it with the assertion the tale was well known in Charlottesville.
Callender challenged the President and his supporters to refute the accusation, if refutation was at all possible. He described the President’s silence on the matter as a de facto admission the charge was true. He also identified several children fathered by Jefferson with the woman he referred to only as Sally. And he closed the article with a reference to Jefferson and his supporters attacking the writer’s own character, an oblique referral to Jefferson’s identification of financial support as “charity”. His final line in the article read, “When Mr. Jefferson has read this article, he will find leisure to estimate how much has been lost and gained by so many unprovoked attacks upon J. T. Callender”. Jefferson remained silent on the accusations publicly. Privately he denied them, including in a letter to Abigail Adams. Meanwhile, Federalist newspapers across the country reprinted Callender’s article, and published others expanding upon it.