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History 100 Lecture 10 Zenger Trial.docx

History 100 Lecture 10 Zenger Trial.docx - Lecture 10 The...

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Lecture 10 The Trial of John Peter Zenger The trial of a German printer named John Peter Zenger in August 1735 helped establish one of our most cherished constitutional rights: freedom of the press. On August 5, 1735, twelve New York jurors acquitted Zenger of seditious libel. He had been arrested and charged with seditious libel for printing statements in the New York Weekly Journal that were critical of colonial Governor William Cosby’s arbitrary rule. Zenger’s defense lawyer argued that Zenger was not guilty of libel because the statements against Cosby were true. However, under English law, the mere fact that a printer published statements that were critical of the government constituted seditious libel, regardless of their veracity. Therefore, the trial judge, who had been handpicked by Governor Cosby in the first place, instructed the jury to return a verdict of “guilty” because Zenger had admitted to printing the statements. However, Zenger’s brilliant defenselawyer,
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