John Peter Zenger
When, in 1644, in his Areopagitica, John Milton asserted: "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties," he was championing the cause of all early newspapermen. Editors spent almost as much time in jail as they did in the printing office. Defoe, a habitué of debtors' jail, was sentenced to a year in Newgate for a satire on religious intolerance. John Wilkes, another stouthearted reporter, was committed to the Tower and expelled from the House of Commons for daring to assert in his newspaper, The North Briton, in 1763, that the King, in a speech to Parliament, had not told the truth. American colonial newsmen fared no better. Before coming to this country, Benjamin Harris was pilloried, fined, and imprisoned for criticizing the King. His colonial venture, Publick Occurrences, the first newspaper in the English colonies, was suppressed four days after its initial appearance in 1690 for daring to report that the English armed forces had allied themselves with "miserable" savages. When James Franklin , the editor of The New England Courant, was jailed for attacking the colonial government, he had his half brother, Ben, then sixteen years old, and destined to be the most famous of colonial editors, carry on the enterprise in his own name. By this flimsy subterfuge he evaded the censors for a time.
None of these early newsmen served the cause of freedom more effectively than did the German immigrant, John Peter Zenger, whose New-York Weekly Journal, from its first issue in 1733, infused an independent and even truculent spirit into American colonial journalism. Backed by the ousted chief justice of New York, Lewis Morris, and by two prominent attorneys, James Alexander and William Smith, Zenger proceeded to attack the highhanded administration of Governor William Cosby. With grim, Swiftian humor he