From the Zenger Case to the American Revolution
T he American contribution to libertarian theory on freedom of speech and press, so strikingly absent prior to the Zenger case of 1735, was inconspicuous for long after. Even in the celebrated case America produced no broad concept of freedom of expression. That did not come until the very close of the eighteenth century. In pre-Zenger America, no one had ever published an essay on the subject, let alone repudiate the concept of seditious libel or condemn its conventional application by the common-law courts or by parliamentary punishment for breach of privilege. To be sure, Englishmen in America admiringly read and quoted Cato, particularly if his grandiloquence suited a momentary purpose. But the colonists gave little independent thought and even less expression to a theory of unfettered debate. Benjamin Franklin, a towering figure among colonial printers and thinkers, best illustrates the point. In 1722, when only a youth, he reprinted at length Cato's essay on "Freedom of Speech" in the New-England Courant after his brother, James Franklin, had been imprisoned for an article that offended the Massachusetts
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Publication information: Book title: Legacy of Suppression:Freedom of Speech and Press in Early American History. Contributors: Leonard Williams Levy - Author. Publisher: Bleknap Press of Harvard University. Place of publication: Cambridge, MA. Publication year: 1960. Page number: 126.
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