"Such a Tornado": The Life and Times of James Thomson Callender



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This dissertation focuses on the life, work, and historical importance of James Thomson Callender, a scandalmongering journalist whose publications revealed the personal affairs of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. This study seeks to offer a new examination and contextualization of Callender on the American political stage. Callender was closely involved in two major personal scandals: Alexander Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds and Thomas Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemings. Moreover, he was also a major force in the evolution of the early American party system and participated in some of the young republic’s first growing pains, most notably the attempt of the Sedition Act of 1798 to squelch the right to a free press guaranteed in the First Amendment. Although a prior biography exists of Callender, a need remains for the journalist to be presented in a more accessible, narrative-driven manner that is nonetheless grounded in sound historical methodology. Callender lived in a moment of enormous change. In his brief life in America, the United States struggled through two bitterly contested presidential elections, attempted to find its footing in a volatile international community, and sought the balance between its constitutional idealism and the overwhelming need at times for political pragmatism. This dissertation attempts to present Callender as an independent actor whose work impacted all of these narrative strands. Through a reexamination of the journalist’s activities and involvement in early American politics, a new voice is offered as part of a portrait of the early republic’s political and ideological climate.



American history, Early American politics, Thomson Callender, James, Jefferson, Thomas, Hamilton, Alexander, Hemings, Sally