John Peter Zenger

Ariel Gardner, Caitlin Lasater, Evana Flores, Kaelah Khan

John Peter Zenger

A German American journalist, printer, publisher and editor made famous for the 'Zenger Trial' in which he was prosecuted for the charges of libel against William Cosby.


John Peter Zeneger was a German immigrant who was born in the year of 1679. When he was 13 years old he moved from Germany to the colonies in 1710 and found a job working on the colonies' newspaper as a printers apprentices. After printing with the New York Gazette for 15 years he decided to sell his own religious phamplets. In 1773 William Cosby, an Brittish man, became New Yorks appointed governor. Colonists of all social status were contempt with him, most of the time. However, when Zeneger was approached by buisness men who opposed Cosby and his governing tactics, he couldn't refuse thier offering to fund his newspapers in exchange for exposing the royal governor for his likeliness to abuse his power. The first paper of The Weekly Journal, which contained Cosby's critiques, was released on the 5th of November, 1733. Cosby was furious and had Zeneger arrested in 1734 after several burnings of this issue. Even though he remained in jail, his paper continued with the help of his wife who retrieved his editorials through the jail door.

In August 1735, Zenegers case went to trial and he was defended by one of the best lawyers in the colony, Andrew Hammilton (1676-1714). Although Hamilton admitted to his client being guilty of printing the papers, he stated that Zeneger's statements would have to have been evil hearted and false to prove seditious libel. The prosecution rebutted with thier definition of libel which consisted of anything that shamed another person through "scandalous and malicious" words. Unfortunately the jury agreed with the prosecution because of the lack of evidence brought forward by Hamilton. Though, what saved Zeneger was Hamiltons closing argument, which is considered one of the most famous in the history of law. He accused the court of "supressing evidence", which he urged the jury was the strongest act of evidence possible for him to mention. He continued by stating that "liberty is the people's only bulwark against lawless power...." He finished his passionate speech with an encouragement for the jury to fight for liberty and by doing so they would have ended an attempt of tyrany. This convinced each of those seven jury members and proved Zeneger not guilty.

When Zeneger was released, he returned to his buisness and covered his own trial in his published transcripts. Zeneger passed away in 1746, but his trial aided to developing our Country today because the popularity of his trial sweeped the colonists and was even codified by our founding fathers in the bill of rights. The first amendment being the freedom of press is al thanks to our friend Zeneger.

Was Zeneger a Good Guy?


In order to maintain integrity an individual must adhere to moral and ethical principles which will exude an honest character.

Zeneger, while his case is heroic, did not actually display the integrity of the hero we imagined him to be. True, his case did establish the first amendment , but the actions that caused Zeneger's arrest in the first place were primarily driven by greed. In fact without the aid of Zenegers brilliant lawyer, Andrew Hamiliton, he wouldn't have been claimed innocent. The colony was blissfully ignorant with their ruler until they uncovered the scandal through Zeneger's paper. Zeneger was not a bad guy though, Cosby abused his power. However, Zeneger's motives did not display the integrity of a "good man" during an era when libel was illegal. Zeneger's integrity also comes to question at the court when he claims that everything he printed was "truth" when in reality, he may of cared less about politics as long as he received his end of the bargain. Granted, what became of the trail was phenomenal, seeing now that we have the freedom of the press and to criticize officials without being tried, further establishing our democracy.

Was Zeneger a True Citezen?


The character of an individual viewed as a member of society; behavior in terms of duties, obligations and vested with rights and duties of a citizen.

In 1733, John Peter Zenger exposed the Royal Governor William B. Cosby in his column of the New York Weekly Journal. Despite the fact that colonists did not have any conflictions, some colonists, along with Zenger, were angry with the British due to the rise in taxes. He was put on trial and accused of libel, publishing information that was opposed to the government, and fortunately for the future of America, was not guilty. In result to the trial, colonists were happy that they had the freedom to speak their mind. The British on the other hand were furious, as they felt their grip on the control over the colonies was beginning to slip, which to them meant no more funds. Ultimately, it was a critical step into establishing the First Amendment, and the beginning of the separation between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies.