TDISH: Freedom of the Press 

In November 1734, New York printer John Peter Zenger was arrested by representatives of the Royal governor of the colony on charges of seditious libel.  Zenger was the printer for the New York Gazette, a newspaper that had taken to accusing the governor William Cosby of tyranny and violation of the rights of the people.  Cosby, not surprisingly, did not take these accusations lightly and planned to take out the “seditious” newspaper.  After a long stretch of legal wrangling over representation for the defendant, the case finally came before a jury in August 1735.  In an impassioned speech, Zenger’s attorney, Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, made the following plea to the jurors:

The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the jury, is not of small or private concern. It is not the cause of one poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying. No! It may in its consequence affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty.

In a short ten-minute deliberation, the jury found Zenger not guilty of seditious libel on the basis that what was printed was true and, therefore, not libelous.  Thus, they did a nice legal dodge around the whole “seditious” thing.  The Zenger case has been held ever since in high esteem as a landmark case in the development of freedom of the press in future United States.

Featured Image: “The Zenger Trial.” By Martha J. Lamb –, Public Domain.
Source: “Crown v. John Peter Zenger.” Historical Society of the New York Courts.

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