At age thirteen Zenger emigrated from his native Germany to New York City, where he became a printer. After temporarily living in Maryland, he returned to New York City in 1723 and set himself up as an independent printer. He specialized in printing Dutch- language books and controversial materials that the official provincial government printer would not accept.
In the early 1730’s a party arose against the administration of new governor William Cosby. Zenger was hired to print an opposition newspaper, The New York Weekly Journal to counter the official newspaper. The paper was written by two talented men who had been dismissed by Governor Cosby: lawyer and journalist James Alexander, who contributed most of the articles, and former chief justice Lewis Morris. Their stories and satirical advertisements were published anonymously, however, so Zenger was held responsible for the newspaper’s contents.
When Governor Cosby tried to prosecute Zenger, two grand juries refused to indict him. Finally, Cosby had a warrant for Zenger’s arrest for seditious libel issued through the executive council. On November 17, 1734, Zenger was arrested. He was imprisoned when he could not post an excessively high bail. He nevertheless managed to continue publishing his newspaper by issuing instructions to his wife and assistants through a hole in his cell door.
Zenger’s trial was a landmark in colonial jurisprudence for the foundations...
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