Freedom Of The Press

A little history for this Sunday…..a tidbit from out forgotten past…..

My continuing civics series….’where it all began’….

These days with all the hate speech and the defense of such speech citing the first amendment of our Constitution……it might be a good thing to learn about the this important amendment…..

Ever hear of John Peter Zenger?

I bet your history class did not cover this important event….let’s step back into American history to the year 1735…..

No democracy has existed in the modern world without the existence of a free press. Newspapers and pamphlets allow for the exchange of ideas and for the voicing of dissent. When a corrupt government holds power, the press becomes a critical weapon. It organizes opposition and can help revolutionary ideas spread. The trial of John Peter Zenger, a New York printer, was an important step toward this most precious freedom for American colonists.

John Peter Zenger was a German immigrant who printed a publication called The New York Weekly Journal. This publication harshly pointed out the actions of the corrupt royal governor, William S. Cosby. It accused the government of rigging elections and allowing the French enemy to explore New York harbor. It accused the governor of an assortment of crimes and basically labeled him an idiot. Although Zenger merely printed the articles, he was hauled into jail. The authors were anonymous, and Zenger would not name them.

In 1733, Zenger was accused of libel, a legal term whose meaning is quite different for us today than it was for him. In his day it was libel when you published information that was opposed to the government. Truth or falsity were irrelevant. He never denied printing the pieces. The judge therefore felt that the verdict was never in question. Something very surprising happened, however.

The first jury was packed with individuals on Cosby’s payroll. Throughout this process, Zenger’s wife Anna kept the presses rolling. Her reports resulted in replacing Cosby’s jury with a true jury of Zenger’s peers.

When the trial began and Zenger’s new attorney began his defense, a stir fluttered through the courtroom. The most famous lawyer in the colonies, Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, stepped up to defend Zenger. Hamilton admitted that Zenger printed the charges and demanded the prosecution to prove them false. In a stirring appeal to the jury, Hamilton pleaded for his new client’s release. “It is not the cause of one poor printer,” he claimed, “but the cause of liberty.” The judge ordered the jury to convict Zenger if they believed he printed the stories. But the jury returned in less than ten minutes with a verdict of not guilty.

Cheers filled the courtroom and soon spread throughout the countryside. Zenger and Hamilton were hailed as heroes. Another building block of liberty was in place. Although true freedom of the press was not known until the passage of the First Amendment, newspaper publishers felt freer to print their honest views. As the American Revolution approached, this freedom would become ever more vital.


This is where the much revered first amendment got its roots….

So when you are preaching the freedom of the press we Americans can thank Zenger for the importance that this issue was given when the Constitution was being drafted.

Happy May Day one and all….

Enjoy your Sunday…..

Class Dismissed!

I Read, I Write, You Know

“lego ergo scribo”


7 thoughts on “Freedom Of The Press

  1. Wow, what a piece of history, i honestly never had heard or read before, Chuq! Thanks for sharing, and because it was a German immigrant, i am now i little bit more honored to be German. 😉 Have a good weekend! xx Michael

  2. What good is “Freedom of the Press” when half the country has been brainwashed by the radical right win to believe that “The Press” is nothing but fake news? If it is true, as has been reported, that the radicalized Supreme Court is already setting the mechanisms in place to guarantee a right wing sweep of the 2024 presidential election and a take over of both houses of congress, “Freedom of The Press” ig going to disappear forever from the shores of The United States.

  3. I am of the opinion that press freedom was a nice idea that never actually happened. Once the fat-cat owners had their say, then add government interference, I question if it ever existed.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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