John Peter Zenger

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John Peter Zenger (1697-1746) was German-born printer in colonial America who established freedom of the press for the United States by earning an acquittal in a jury trial in 1735 in New York City on charges of libel.

Zenger overcame hardship with the death of his father in the trip to America. His mother raised the children alone and never remarried.

Zenger became an indentured apprentice to New York's only printer, William Bradford, to whom he became partnered in 1725. When he earned his own ability to print, he decided to publish James Alexander's attacks on New York Governor Cosby's administration. In 1733, he began publishing America's first party newspaper, called The New York Weekly Journal.

Truth in allegations was not a perfect defense to charges of libel, as it is today. Zenger was imprisoned over eight months of terrible conditions in New York City's Old Jail. Zenger withstood pressure and refused to identify the source of the offensive articles.

Zenger's wife continued to publish the New York Weekly Journal with his husband in jail, despite raising many children at the time. This kept public support high for Zenger.

At trial,[1] Zenger was acquitted based on jury nullification, which means the jury ignored the law and held in favor of a defendant who had undeniably broken the law. In other words, the jury found the law to be unjust and "nullified" it to reach a not guilty verdict.

Free again, Zenger printed mostly religious tracts.

See Also

Notes & References

  1. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/zenger/zenger.html
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