United States v. James Thompson Callender

25 F. Cas. 239 (1800)

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United States v. James Thompson Callender

United States Circuit Court for the District of Virginia
25 F. Cas. 239 (1800)

Facts

James Callender (defendant) published a lengthy commentary that alleged that then-president John Adams was in favor of aristocracy, Adams was unfairly pro-British and anti-French, and that, among other charges, Adams had labored to break up the bonds of social affection in America. Callender was indicted by the federal government under the Alien and Sedition Acts. To convict Callender, the government needed to prove that the statements in question were false and made with defamatory intent. Callender ultimately intended to argue the truth of his statements. Callender attempted to introduce a witness, Colonel Taylor, who would testify to Adams’s approval of monarchy, Adams’s disapproval of the American funding system, and whether Adams had voted against suspending commercial activity with Britain. A point of contention was that Taylor could not verify any of Callender’s statements in the entirety, but Callender’s attorney argued that Taylor could prove part of a statement, which Callender’s attorney would then prove the remainder by other means. This approach was not successful, as the court noted that any of Colonel Taylor’s evidence would not be the best evidence. The other approach taken by Callender’s attorney was that the jury was allowed to consider not only the law before the jury and the facts of the case, but also whether the law was constitutional and find the law void if unconstitutional.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Chase, J.)

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