The Rise of a Free Press Cindy Blackwell Food Security Fellows 8 April 2011
1507 – Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci sights the coast of now South America during a voyage of discovery for Spain and is credited with the discovery of the continent
1565 – First permanent European colony in North America is founded at St. Augustine (Florida) by the Spanish
Historical Overview Continued
1607 – Jamestown is founded in Virginia
1633 – First town government in colonies is organized in Dorchester, Massachusetts
1638 – First Colonial printing press in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Historical Overview Continued
1686 - King James II begins consolidating the colonies of New England into a single Dominion depriving colonists of their local political rights and independence. Legislatures are dissolved and the King's representatives assume all of the judicial and legislative power.
1691 - In New York, the newly appointed Governor of New England, Henry Sloughter, arrives from England and institutes a royally sanctioned representative government. In October, Massachusetts gets a new royal charter which includes government by a royal governor and a governor's council.
Historical Overview Continues
1700 - The Anglo population in the English colonies in America reaches 250,000.
1704 – First continuous colonial newspaper, the Boston News-Letter , begins publication 1
1720 – John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon writing as “Cato” produced 158 essays between 1720 and 1723 first published in the London Journal to promote the ideals of a free press
1722 – Ben Franklin reprints Cato ’s essays in the New England Courant 2
The Zenger Era
November 5, 1733 – First edition of the New York Weekly Journal is published
The Journal was:
Printed each Monday by John Peter Zenger
Edited by James Alexander
The first political independent newspaper ever published in the American colonies
Completely written by anonymous writers
Against the policies of Governor William Cosby
The Crimes of Governor Cosby
1732 – Governor Cosby arrives in New York and demands salary from the then acting Governor Rip Van Dam
Cosby creates a new court to hear his lawsuit and decide in his favor
1733 – Governor Cosby removes Chief Justice Lewis Morris from the Supreme Court with no grounds to do so
1733 - Rigs an election for assemblyman of Westchester (however loses)
The Trial of John Peter Zenger
November 17, 1734 – Zenger is arrested for the printing of seditious libel, which is an English law
Bail is set and Zenger is unable to pay, keeping him in jail
July 29, 1735 – The trial of Zenger begins however his first two defense counselors are dismissed for challenging the selection of the judge
Zenger ’s counsel, Andrew Hamilton, argued it was the law that was wrong, not Zenger
“ Men who injure and oppress the people under their administration provoke them to cry out and complain; and then make that very complaint the foundation for new oppressions and prosecutions.” 4
Zenger was acquitted and Truth became the greatest defense against the accusation of libel
The Trial ’s Impact
“ The trial was the first, and the most important, step toward freedom of the press in America. Peter Zenger was accused of seditious libel simply because his press had turned out, and was still turning out as he stood in the dock, a newspaper with the impudence to criticize the Governor and his administration. The New York Weekly Journal was an astonishing spectacle in the Colonies – a periodical that preached freedom of the press as a fundamental right, and practiced its doctrine by reporting news as it saw fit.” Buranelli (1957) p. 53
Guaranteeing Press Freedom
July 4, 1776 – Declaration of Independence
1776 – Virginia Bill of Rights incorporated the first specific guarantee of freedom of the press in America
1787 – US Constitution was written and signed but contained no mention of a free press 2
The press was not an extension of the government
Bill of Rights – 1789-1791
1786 – Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty depends upon the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
1789 – John Adams said, “The only way people can be well-informed is through the press and if truth was printed, and for the public good, no libel charges could be filed.” 2
First Amendment -- 1791
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
First Amendment offered a starting point to a story that is unfinished
1 The History Place (1998). American Revolution: Early Colonial Era. Retrieved 3 July 2007 from http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/revolution/rev-early.htm
2 Ingelhart, L. E. (1987). Press freedoms: A descriptive calendar of concepts, interpretations, events and court actions, from 4000 B.C. to the present. Greenwood Press: New York.
3 Buranelli, V. (1957). The trial of Peter Zenger. New York University Press: New York.
4 New York v. John Peter Zenger (1735). Retrieved 3 July 2007 from http://www.law.uh.edu/teacher/zenger .