Item of the Day: The Trial of John Peter Zenger (1765)

Full Title:  THE TRIAL OF JOHN PETER ZENGER, Of New-York, Printer: Who was charged with having printed and published a Libel against the Government; and acquitted with A NARRATIVE OF HIS CASE To which is now added, being never printed before, THE TRIAL of Mr. WILLIAM OWEN, Bookseller, near Temple-Bar, Who was also Charged with the Publication of a Libel against the Government; of which he was honourably acquitted by a Jury of Free-born Englishmen, Citizens of London.  London:  Printed for J. Almon, opposite Burlington-House, Piccadilly. MDCCLXV.

The TRIAL of JOHN PETER ZENGER, August 4, 1735.

At a Supreme court of judicature held for the Province of New-York,

PRESENT

The Hon. James De Lancey, Esq; chief justice.

The Hon. Frederick Philipse, Esq; second justice

The court being seated, Zenger was brought in.

. . .

Mr. Attorney-general opened the information, which was as follows:

“New-York, Supreme court.

Of the term of January, in the eighth year of the reign of our sovereign lord king George IId, &c. New-York

Be it remembered, that Richard Bradley, esq; attorney-general of our sovereign lord the king, for the province of New-York, who for our said lord the king in this part prosecutes, in his own proper person comes here into the court of our said lord the king, and for our said lord the king gives the court here to understand and be informed, — that John Peter Zenger, late of the city of New-York, Printer, (being a seditious person, and a frequent printer and publisher of false news and seditious libels, and wickedly and maliciously devising the government of our said lord the king of this his majesty’s province of New-York, under the administration of his excellency William Cosby, Esq; captain-general and governor in chief of the said province, to traduce, scandalize and vilify; and his excellency the said governor, and the ministers and officers of our said lord the king of and for the said province to bring into suspicion and the ill opinion of the subjects of our said lord the king residing within the said province) the twenty-eighth day of January, in the seventh year of the reign of our sovereign lord George the Second, by the grace of God of Great-Britain, France and Ireland, king, defender of the faith, &c. at the city of New-York, did falsely, seditiously and scandalously print and publish, and cause to be printed and published, a certain false malicious seditious, scandalous libel, intituled, the New-York Weekly Journal, containing the freshest advices foreign and domestic; in which libel (of and concerning his excellency the said governor, and the ministers and officers of our said lord the king, of and for the said province) among other things therein contained, are these words:     ‘ Your appearance in print at last gives a pleasure to many, tho’ most with you had come fairly into the open field, and not appeared behind retrenchments made of the supposed laws against libelling, and of what other men have said and done before; these retrenchements, gentlemen, may soon be shewn to you and all men to be weak, and to have neither law nor reason for their foundation, so cannot long stand you in stead:  therefore, you had much better as yet leave them, and come to what the people of this city and province (the city and province of New-York meaning) think are the points in question (to wit) They (the people of the city and province of New-York meaning) think, as matters now stand, that their LIBERTIES and PROPERTIES are precarious, and that SLAVERY is like to be intailed on them and their posterity, if some past things be not amended, and this they collect from many past proceedings. ‘   Meaning many of the past proceedings of his excellency the said governor and of the ministers and officers of our said lord the king, of and for the said province.)  And the said attorney-general of our said lord the king, for our said lord the king, likewise gives the court here to understand and be informed, That the said John Peter Zenger afterwards (to wit) the eighth day of April in the seventh year of the reign of our said lord the king, at the city of New-York aforesaid, did falsely, seditiously and scandalously print and publish, and cause to be printed and published, another false, malicious, seditious, and scandalous libel, intituled, The New-York Weekly Journal, containing the freshest advices foreign and domestic.  In which libel, (of and concerning the government of the province of New-York, and of and concerning his excellency the said governor, and the ministers and officers of our said lord the king, of and for the said province) among other things therein contained, are these words,           ‘ One of our neighbours (one of the inhabitants of New-Jersey meaning) being in company, observing the strangers (some of the inhabitants of New-York meaning) full of complaints, endeavoured to persuade them to remove into Jersey; to which it was replied, that would be leaping out of the frying-pan into the fire; for, says he, we both are under the same governor, (his excellency the said governor meaning) and your assembly have shewn with a witness what is to be expected from them: one that was then moving to Pensilvania, (meaning one that was then removing from New-York, with intent to reside at Pensilvania) to which place several considerable men are removing (from New-York meaning) expressed, in terms very moving, much concern for the circumstances of New-York, (the bad circumstances of the province and the people of New-York meaning) seemed to think them very much owing to the influence that some men (whom he called tools) had in the administration, (meaning the administration of government of the said province of New-York) said he was now going from them, and was not to be hurt by any measures they should take, but could not help having some concern for the welfare of his countrymen, and should be glad to hear that the assembly (meaning the general assembly of the province of New-York) would exert themselves as became them, by shewing that they have the interest of their country more at heart, than the gratification of any private view of any of their members, or being at all affected by the smiles or frowns of a governor, (his excellency the said governor meaning) both which ought equally to be despised, when the interest of their country is at stake.  You, says, he, complain of the lawyers, but I think the law itself is at an end, WE (the people of the province of New-York meaning) See men’s deeds destroyed, judges arbitrarily displaced, New courts erected without consent of the legislature (with the province of New-York meaning) by which it seems to me, trials by juries are taken away when a governor pleases, (His excellency the said governor meaning) Men of known estates denied their votes, contrary to the received practice, the best expositor of any law: Who is then in that province (meaning the province of New-York) that call (can call meaning) any thing he own, or enjoy any liberty (liberty meaning) longer than those in the administration (meaning the administration of government of the said province of New-York) will condescend to let them do it, for which reason I have left it, (the province of New-York meaning) as I believe more will.”  To the great disturbance of the peace of the said province of New-York, to the great scandal of our said lord the king, of his excellency the said governor, and of all others concerned in the administration of the government of the said province, and against the peace of our sovereign lord the king, his crown and dignity, &c.  Whereupon the said attorney-general of our said lord the king, for our said lord the king, prays the advisement of the court here, in the premises, and the due process of the law, against him the said John Peter Zenger, in this part to be done, to answer to our said lord the king of and in the premises, &c.

R. Bradley, attorney-general.”

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Filed under 1730's, Great Britain, Legal, Newspapers, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

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