6. James T. Callender emerged as America’s premiere scandalmonger in the late 18th century
Originally from Scotland, which he fled after publishing seditious pamphlets in the late 1780s, James Callender arrived in Philadelphia during Washington’s first administration. By then, the press in Philadelphia and other eastern cities had become largely partisan in nature. George Washington denounced the formation of political parties, though his most influential cabinet officers led their development. Jefferson’s view of America becoming a largely agrarian society, relatively unbothered by government, led to the creation of the Democratic-Republican party. Alexander Hamilton and others including John Adams believed in a strong central government authority, and developed into the Federalist Party. The press found that personal attacks on leading figures sold more papers, and advertising, than did sober discussion of the political and societal issues of the day. Callender thrived in such an atmosphere.
Vindictive, grasping, and always willing to resort to blackmail, Callender used a network of informants to build stories attacking members of both parties. During the 1790s and 1800s, Jefferson and Hamilton both found themselves the subject of salacious articles printed by Callender’s publishers. George Washington and John Adams both fell victim to his attacks, which in part led to Adam’s support for the Alien and Sedition Acts during his sole term in office as President. Although Callender also wrote articles discussing the federal government’s role in taxation and the public welfare, he is mainly remembered for his invective laden articles attacking the moral turpitude and character of America’s political leaders. Callender claimed Washington promoted himself as an idol to the nation, an act which “debauched” the people and the government. It proved to be one of his milder attacks.