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John Peter Zenger

From Academic Kids

John Peter Zenger (October 26, 1697July 28, 1746) was a printer, publisher, editor and journalist whose indictment, trial and acquittal on sedition and libel charges (against the then Governor William Cosby of the New York Colony) in 1734 was an important contributing factor to the development of the freedom of the press in America.

Zenger had been an immigrant to New York from Germany, and it is unclear just how seriously he personally took the material published in his paper. The paper, the New York Weekly Journal, was almost certainly financed by one of the opposition political factions in New York politics, possibly by James Alexander, who along with William Smith were disbarred for objecting to the two man court Cosby had handpicked. Zenger was most likely a convenient target to use in an attempt to end criticism. His trial may have resulted in the addition of the expression Philadelphia lawyer to the language. His defense attorney, Andrew Hamilton, was from Philadelphia, and won a case most closer attorneys were confident would be unwinnable, and over which prior attorneys had been disbarred.

At the end of the trial on August 5, 1735, the twelve New York jurors returned a verdict of "not guilty" on the charge of publishing "seditious libels," despite the Governor's hand-picked judges presiding. Hamilton had successfully argued that Zenger's articles were not libelous because they were based on fact. Zenger published a verbatim account of the trial as A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger (1736).

He may be buried in an unmarked grave in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in Manhattan, New York.

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