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clayton jones

on 21 August 2013

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The Precedent
The John Peter Zenger Trial marked the first time that the right to freedom of the press was recognized/defended in court. It gave newspapers the freedom to publish the truth, regardless of whether or not the information supported the royal government. This new-found freedom not only helped spread revolutionary ideas, but also led to the creation of the First Amendment - through which the United States would protect freedom of the press by law.
Even before the United States was formed, American colonists fought to preserve freedom of the press. At the time of the Zenger case, New York was still under British rule. According to the British government, libel, a crime with serious consequences, included the publication of any information which opposed, trashed, or contradicted the government. Whether or not the information was true did not matter.
The Ruling, cont.
Hamilton never tried to deny that his client, Zenger, did indeed publish the newspaper. Instead, he challenged the prosecution to prove the information wrong. He argued that the main concern of the case was not "one poor printer", but liberty. The judge asked the jury to sentence Zenger based on whether or not they believed he had printed the controversial article. Instead, they listened to Hamilton and very quickly decided Zenger was not guilty.
The Ruling
Since Zenger never denied printing the paper, it seemed inevitable that he would be found guilty, especially when the first jury was mostly comprised of Cosby's employees. However, Zenger had a few tricks up his sleeve. One was his wife, Anna, who kept the newspaper running while he was imprisoned. This way, she ensured that the second jury was fair. The other was his famous Philadelphia lawyer, Andrew Hamilton.
Clayton Jones
John Peter Zenger was a German immigrant who published a newspaper called "The New York Weekly Journal". One particular story in the paper called attention to corruption in the New York government. The article blamed the royal governor William S Cosby of rigging elections and making secret deals with foreign enemies, among other crimes. Keep in mind, Zenger was not the writer, just the publisher. Still, he was accused of libel and put in jail.
Background/Participants, cont.
Match each person with the phrase that best describes them.
1. William S Cosby
2. John Peter Zenger
3. Anna Zenger
4. Andrew Hamilton
a. kept "The New York Weekly Journal" running during the trial

b. royal governor accused of being corrupt

c. famous lawyer who argued the case was really an issue of liberty

d. German immigrant who published a controversial newspaper in New York
Ushistory.org. "7c. The Trial of John Peter Zenger." The Trial of
John Peter Zenger. US History Online Textbook, 2013.
Web. 20 Aug. 2013. <http://www.ushistory.org/
Full transcript