The Early American Press, 1690-1783

By William David Sloan; Julie Hedgepeth Williams | Go to book overview

3
Freedom of the Press, 1638-1735

It was a day of triumph for Andrew Hamilton.

He had come from Philadelphia to defy the governor of New York in court, and he had won. He had gotten no pay for his efforts, and he was quite sick by now. But his client, newspaperman John Peter Zenger, was free after months of imprisonment--and today, September 29, 1735, the mayor and aldermen of New York were presenting Hamilton with a ceremonial document giving him honorary citizenship in the city. The officials had commissioned the making of a special gold box to hold the certificate for the presentation. The glowing box was inscribed with Latin sayings about virtue and liberty, and it weighed a full five and a half ounces. 1

It was perhaps an unusual award for winning a lawsuit, but Hamilton was pleased to see that Mayor Paul Richards and the aldermen recognized that the Zenger case had meaning in more places than just New York. The document lauded:

We therefore, under a grateful Sense of the remarkable Service done to the Inhabitants of this City and Colony, by Andrew Hamilton, Esq; . . . by his learned and generous Defence of the Rights of Mankind and the Liberty of the Press, in the Case of John-Peter Zenger . . . do by these Presents, bear to the said Andrew Hamilton, Esq; the public Thanks of the Freemen of this Corporation for that signal Service. 2

Hamilton had successfully argued before a jury that the truth was a defense against the charge of libel; a true report about a public official, no matter how scandalous, could not be libelous. 3 History, in time, would come to agree with the city of New York on the brilliance of Hamilton's argument. His defense of Zenger would eventually be seen as the colonial period's landmark case in the struggle to define freedom of the press.

-73-

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The Early American Press, 1690-1783
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - The Boston Press, 1690-1735 1
  • 2 - The Philadelphia Press, 1719-1735 51
  • Notes 68
  • 3 - Freedom of the Press, 1638-1735 73
  • Notes 91
  • 4 - The Expansion of the Colonial Press, 1735-1765 97
  • Notes 118
  • 5 - The Stamp Act Crisis, 1765-1766 123
  • Notes 142
  • 6 - The Uneasy Years, 1766-1775 147
  • Notes 165
  • 7 - The Revolutionary Press, 1775-1783 171
  • Notes 192
  • 8 - Reflections on the Early American Press 199
  • Notes 209
  • Bibliographical Essay 211
  • Notes 217
  • Sources 219
  • Index 229
  • About the Authors 235
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