31 John Peter Zenger Facts: The German Journalist!

Martha Martins
Jan 23, 2024 By Martha Martins
Originally Published on Jan 24, 2022
Read on to know all about John Peter Zenger.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.7 Min

John Peter Zenger was a German-American reporter and newspaper editor who rose to prominence after facing libel accusations for publishing anti-governor articles.

He was born in Impflingen, Germany, on October 26, 1697, to Johanna and Nicholaus Eberhard, a schoolteacher. John's family emigrated to New York in 1710, but his father died before they arrived, so John worked as a printer with William Bradford.

After starting his newspaper, John Peter Zenger was charged and tried to defy the colonial governor of New York. His trial became a milestone moment in the history of press freedom when he was represented by Andrew Hamilton, who did not care for New York intrigues. Let us check some John Peter Zenger facts and a brief narrative of his case.

Early Life Of John Peter Zenger

 John Peter Zenger, a New York printer and journalist, was born in 1697 in Germany and died on July 28, 1746, in New York City.

The Zenger family immigrated to New York around 1710 as part of a significant migration of German Palatines, and Nicolaus Zenger was one of the first citizens of the New York colony. It is not known where he schooled, but Zenger began working as an intern for William Bradford, the founder of the printing industry, in 1711. In 1719, after completing his apprenticeship, Zenger got married to Mary White, who passed away only a few years later.

Two years later, Zenger moved to New York City. In 1722, he was engaged to Anna Catherine Maulin, and the following year, he became a resident of the city (a resident with full rights). After a brief association with Bradford, Zenger started his separate company in 1726. He largely printed political and social publications in the Dutch language during the next seven years. 

The Legal Case Of John Peter Zenger

When Zenger was elected editor of the 'New York Weekly Journal,' a new political journal, in 1733, his life was completely transformed. Governor Cosby had already infuriated New Yorkers by appointing James De Lancey, a friend of Cosby's, as Chief Justice.

The Journal was created by lawyers, businessmen, and others who believed Cosby decided to misuse his power. Because New York had been a British crown colony, the new governor was appointed by the British royal family, and the removal of the Chief Justice was a complete misuse of authority.

They staged a mutiny by organizing the magazine as a medium for their ideas. When Zenger joined the Journal, he clashed with his prior instructor, Bradford, who published the pro-government New-York Journal, the city's first newspaper. The first edition of the Gazette was released on November 5, 1733. Because Zenger's command of English was poor, he did not write any noteworthy pieces. The majority of the pieces accusing incoming Governor Cosby of ruling without the consent of the people were almost certainly written by the Morris group. After the Gazette was already printed for nearly a year, the New York City Council decided to penalize Zenger. The Journal's four most provocative editions were ordered to be burnt.

In protecting Zenger in this critical case, James Alexander, Andrew Hamilton, and William Smith Sr aimed to establish a standard that a defamatory statement is not libelous if it can be substantiated. As a result, press freedom was initiated in America; nevertheless, the following royal governors restricted press freedom until the American Revolution. The Zenger case is the foundation of press freedom, not a legal precedent.

Andrew Hamilton wrote a term description of the Zenger trial. In 1736, he was charged with writing slanderous claims against New York Governor William Cosby. State Attorney Richard Bradley, the government's chief legal official, was in charge. In his opening arguments at trial, Hamilton contended that jury members could assess whether Zenger had written facts or lies without the help of presiding Judge De Lancey.

De Lancey declined, stating that only a judge could understand the regulations correctly. Despite this, Hamilton went on to directly address the jury with his points. The grand jury refused to follow De Lancey's orders when it came time to make a conclusion. They came to the conclusion that Zenger's publications were factually truthful and thus acquitted him. Observers in the courtroom welcomed the decision.

The ruling, which established truth as a defense to libel claims, is often recognized as America's first major victory for press freedom. Zenger published a short history of the investigation and judgment of John Peter Zenger the next year, a word-for-word account of the trial (1736). His article was widely circulated in the Americas and the United Kingdom, and it drew a lot of attention.

Facts about life and legacy of John Peter Zenger.

Death Of John Peter Zenger

John Peter Zenger sadly died in New York on July 28, 1746.

His historic acquittal in a libel trial (1735) marked the first significant triumph for press freedom in the English colonies of North America. After her husband died, Anna Zenger continued to publish the newspaper. The print shop was taken over by John and Anna's oldest son, also named John, in 1748, and the journal was published for three more years.

Legacy And Fame: John Peter Zenger

In the modern world, there has never been democracy without the presence of a free press. Newspapers and pamphlets enable the sharing of ideas and the expression of disapproval. The printing business becomes an essential tool when a corrupt administration is in power.

It organizes opposition and has the potential to promote revolutionary ideas. The exemplary prosecution of John Peter Zenger, a New York printer, was a significant step toward the colonists' most cherished freedom.

The 'New York Weekly Journal' was a periodical published by John Peter Zenger. William Cosby, the unscrupulous royal governor, was sharply chastised in this book. The administration was accused of manipulating elections and allowing the French enemy to investigate New York Harbor. It accused the governor of a slew of offenses and other unpleasant behaviors. Zenger was arrested even though he had only printed the pieces. However, Zenger refused to name the authors because they were anonymous, and the 'New York Weekly Journal' ran from 1733 to 1751. 

When the trial began and Zenger's new counsel launched his defense, the courtroom erupted in applause. Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, the most recognized lawyer in the colonies, stepped forward to defend Zenger. According to Hamilton, the charges were printed by Zenger, who demanded that the prosecution prove them false. Hamilton appealed for his new client's freedom in a moving address to the grand jury. He argued, 'It is the cause of freedom, not the cause of one impoverished writer.' If the jury thought Zenger printed the stories, the New York Supreme Court instructed them to convict him. However, the jury returned with a not guilty decision in less than 10 minutes which made Zenger famous across colonial New York and New Jersey.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Martha Martins

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha Martins picture

Martha MartinsBachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha is a full-time creative writer, content strategist, and aspiring screenwriter who communicates complex thoughts and ideas effectively. She has completed her Bachelor's in Linguistics from Nasarawa State University. As an enthusiast of public relations and communication, Martha is well-prepared to substantially impact your organization as your next content writer and strategist. Her dedication to her craft and commitment to delivering high-quality work enables her to create compelling content that resonates with audiences.

Read full bio >