Did the trial of John Peter Zenger strengthened freedom of the press in English colonies?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    Future generations would find the story of the Zenger case a significant chapter in the story of freedom. While the Zenger trial may have reflected growing American thought on the role of the press and on libel, it did not spark an immediate reaction in the colonial press. Only a few brief statements may be found in papers other than those of New York concerning the controversy. The trial’s results appeared only in Zenger’s newspaper and in a pamphlet that he himself published. Discussion of the trial in the press did not occur until 1737 and 1738 when the decision was attacked by a writer in a Barbados paper and the Pennsylvania Gazette printed responses.

    And what happened in Zenger’s court case did not immediately change the law concerning libel. Even though the case became a major topic of discussion in England in the years after the trial, British law did not give juries the power to decide libel cases until 1792 and did not recognize truth as a libel defense until 1843. New York law did not validate truth as a libel defense until 1821.

    The verdict in the Zenger trial did, however, echo growing sentiment in America that people had the right to criticize their government and that using courts to punish printers or anyone else who did so was improper. Few printers from 1735 on in colonial America faced seditious libel charges. In revolutionary-minded Boston from 1765 on, crown-appointed leaders were continually vilified in print, but no charges of seditious libel could ever be obtained. As legal historian Leonard Levy pointed out, “The law of seditious libel simply had no meaning any longer.”

    The Zenger trial was but one of the many political power struggles that took place in colonial America. Those in power generally supported stricter press control; that is why Cosby clamped down on the Weekly Journal and that is why, during the 1770s patriots used boycotts, intimidation and outright violence to silence Tory printers, even as both groups of printers championed freedom of the press from the pages of their newspapers. A fear of power in a national government led to the Bill of Rights. Even though Zenger’s trial was never mentioned during the debates surrounding the Constitution or the First Amendment, perhaps the trial—or what the trial said about truth, libel and printing—had somehow become a part of America’s consciousness. Surely newspapers had become a part of the fabric of American life. Perhaps, too, episodes such as that of the trial of John Peter Zenger unwittingly paved the way for freedom of the press and even pluralism because they helped acclimate people to a society where political dispute and criticism became commonplace.

  • 3 years ago

    one million) d). 2) a). 3) c). 4) b). 5) a). 6) c). 7) a). 8) b). 9) fake - 1801-1900 became into the nineteenth century. 10) fake. 11) fake - the Northwest Passage became into theory to hold approximately the Pacific ocean. 12). actual. 13) actual.

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