John Peter Zenger

(3093 words)
  • Alison Olson (The University of Maryland)

John Peter Zenger, a German immigrant to New York, was employed in 1734 to begin the printing of a newspaper opposed to the imperial governor. Through a number of satirical articles contributed by political leaders, the paper helped develop a strong popular resistance to the governor, who then accused Zenger of printing seditious libels. In the trial Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, argued that satire could not be construed as libelous if it was based on truth, and that its truthfulness should be determined by a jury, not the governor's hand-picked judges. The jury agreed and acquitted the printer. Because of its striking argument and procedure, the trial's importance has been controversial ever since: did it represent a victory for a n…

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Olson, Alison. "John Peter Zenger". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 16 March 2009
[, accessed 30 September 2016.]