why is John Peter Zenger important?
- Anonymous1 decade agoFavorite Answer
German newspaper publisher and printer
his acquittal of libel charges in new york city established a legal precedent for freedom of the press
- 1 decade ago
John Peter Zenger was born in 1697 in Germany, and migrated to New York as a child in 1710. He was accepted as an apprentice to New York's only printer, William Bradford, until 1718. Zenger and Bradford became partners in 1725 until Zenger started his own shop the next year. In 1733, former New York Attorney General, James Alexander, gave Zenger the opportunity to print America's first party newspaper, the New York Weekly Journal.
Zenger's paper was doing quite well until he wrote something bad in his newspaper about a governor and the governor had him jailed. Zenger claimed in his apology that even though he was in jail without supplies, he could still publish his paper through a hole in the door with the help of his wife and servants. It is unclear just how seriously Zenger personally took the material published in the New York Weekly Journal. It was almost certainly financed by one of the opposition political factions in New York politics, possibly by James Alexander who, along with William Smith was disbarred for objecting to the two-man court William Cosby had hand-picked. 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 local attorneys were confident would be unwinnable, and over which prior attorneys had been disbarred.
A notable part of the case is that Andrew Hamilton challenged the constitutionality of the crimes in which his client was being prosecuted for. It was one of the first times in American history in which a lawyer challenged the laws rather than the innocence of his clients. The jurors were stunned and didn't know how to, or even if they were allowed to, address whether the law itself was "legal."
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). “No nation, ancient or modern, ever lost the liberty of speaking freely, writing, or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves" is a quote by John Peter Zenger. Hamilton had worked for free. In gratitude for what he had done the Common Council of New York awarded Hamilton the freedom of that city and a group of prominent residents contributed to the production of a 5½-ounce gold box that was presented to Hamilton as a lasting mark of their gratitude to him. The box was preserved as a family heirloom for many years and is now in the custody of the Atwater Kent Museum near Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Each year the Philadelphia Bar Association presents a replica of that box to the outgoing Chancellor of the Association. A Latin motto inscribed on the box, identical to one on the original, has the English translation “Acquired not by money, but by character.”
John Peter Zenger died in 1746 at 48 years old.