The Trial of Peter Zenger

By Vincent Buranelli | Go to book overview

Preface

In this book you will find the reasons for the fame of Peter Zenger and Andrew Hamilton. You will also find the reason why James Alexander deserves mention as the third member of a great trio. Zenger was the central figure of a colorful and influential historical event--his trial for seditious libel. Hamilton was the champion who won him his freedom. The place of Alexander in all this is virtually unknown, and yet without him Hamilton's fame would be cut in half, while Zenger would not merit even a footnote in the histories of America, of democracy, or of journalism.

Alexander edited the New York Weekly Journal. That simple fact means that he was the first American editor to practice freedom of the press systematically and coherently, and the first to be justified legally. The defense of Zenger's person was a defense of Alexander's philosophy of journalism. The victory engineered by Hamilton was the result of a courtroom campaign along lines laid down by Alexander.

Perhaps it would be too strong to say that the genius behind the Journal was our greatest editor, but it would be hard to name one of equal importance. If we believe, as we do, that freedom of the press is essential to our civilization, surely we ought to give due recognition to the first American to say so and to act effectively. For this Scottish immigrant of the eighteenth century taught his adopted land the first law of sane journalism: that the news is to be reported on the basis of factual accuracy, and that censorship by the authorities is to be resisted as far as is consistent with national security and the interests of society.

The introduction to the text of the trial is based on a series of articles by the author, published in the following journals:

-iii-

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The Trial of Peter Zenger
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents vii
  • Part One. Introduction 1
  • Part Two. the Trial 77
  • Appendix I - The New York Weekly Journal Covers an Election 135
  • Appendix II - Zenger's Lawyers on the Behavior of His Judges 139
  • Appendix III - James Alexander on Freedom of the Press 141
  • Notes to the Introduction 144
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 145
  • Index 151
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