John Peter Zenger

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John Peter Zenger (1697 - 1746) is an important figure in the history and background to the 1st Amendment's freedom of the press clause.

New York publications[edit | edit source]

Zenger's news stories angered 2 politicians in New York at the time

  1. Rip Van Dam, acting governor of New York in 1731
  2. William Cosby, governor of New York in 1732.

Zenger uses his The New York Weekly Journal to criticize governor Cosby. James Alexander (lawyer) wrote many editorials in the said Journal criticizing Cosby.

Arrest[edit | edit source]

James De Lancey, the Chief Justice of New York who would in 1753 become the New York governor himself, issued an arrest warrant for Zenger in 1733 for publication of "seditious libel." De Lancey had been appointed Chief Justice by William Cosby and was his loyalist.


Zenger was arrested by the sheriff in 1734 and languished in prison for 8 months.


Lawyers[edit | edit source]

De Lancey had disbarred James Alexander. Therefore, James Alexander recruited Andrew Hamilton to argue Zenger's case.

Jury selection commenced in July 1735.

Richard Bradley was the New York attorney general arguing on behalf of governor Cosby. Bradley stated that the law of New York at the time didn't permit the truth of a libel as a defense.

Andrew Hamilton argued that the libel laws of England shouldn't be the libel laws of New York. The 12-men jury returned a verdict of "not guilty." This is an early example of jury nullification.

See also[edit | edit source]