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Acquittal of John Peter Zenger

August 5, 2011

The acquittal of John Peter Zenger on August 5, 1735, for seditious libel is recognized as founding a tradition of freedom of the press in the American colonies. 

Zenger was the publisher of the New York Weekly Journal, a political paper in colonial New York.   For several years, he published articles by James Alexander that were highly critical of the Governor of the colony, William Cosby.  In 1734, Cosby issued a warrant for Zenger’s arrest and  Zenger was jailed.  At a jury trial that began on August 4, 1735.  Zenger’s lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, defended his client with the position that truth was a defense to a charge of libel.  Although the defense had no basis in English law at the time, the jury acquitted Zenger.

For a more about the trial, use our electronic resource to A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger, Printer of the New York Weekly Journal.

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