On this day in 1735, newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger was acquitted of seditious libel
August 5, 2024
An event every year that begins at 12:00 am on day 5 of August, repeating indefinitely
On this day in 1735, newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger was acquitted of seditious libel for publishing critical pieces on the royal governor of New York. The ruling laid the groundwork for freedom of the press in America. 🇺🇸 🗞 🔏 🗞 🇺🇸
At the time, under English common law, seditious libel was defined as any public, written, unjustified criticism of the law, government, or government officials. The truth of the criticism was irrelevant. Needless to say, this made public disapproval of government officials risky.
Zenger, the publisher of the New York Weekly Journal, was brought to court for publishing articles that criticized royal Governor William Cosby. Zenger’s defense claimed that he could not be held accountable for publishing the truth.
For the judge, the verdict was obvious: Zenger was guilty of libel. The good people of the jury, however, did not agree. After only ten minutes of deliberation, they overwhelmingly found Zenger not guilty (to the delight of onlookers, who actually cheered!)
Though the case didn’t set any legal precedent, its outcome influenced the way that Americans would look at freedom of speech and freedom of the press, especially as they embarked on creating their own government some forty years later. 🇺🇸 🎆 🇺🇸
The Illustrated Newspaper, Platt Powell Ryder, 1868