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The Trial of John Peter Zenger and Jury Nullification - Essay Example

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The John Peter Zenger Trial Introduction “There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet.” This famous quotation by William F. Halsey aptly encapsulates the life and the trial of John Peter Zenger. He was catapulted into the hall of heroes not for any extraordinary deed but because of the extraordinary case filed against him by the most powerful person in New York at that time…
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The Trial of John Peter Zenger and Jury Nullification
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Download file to see previous pages This paper shall look into the Zenger trial and its legacy of jury nullification and freedom of speech and of the press. The Antecedent Facts Although the case banners Zenger’s name, he is in fact a mere collateral personality in this entire hullabaloo. His participation is actually limited to being the printer of The New York Weekly Journal, no more, no less. The case traces its history way back to the arrival of Governor William Cosby into the shores of America. When Cosby arrived in August 1731, New York was under the capable hands of Rip Van Dam as Acting Governor. Van Dam, a member of the Provincial Council of New York was appointed as acting governor while Cosby made the months-long journey from Britain to America. However, upon his arrival, Cosby demanded that Van Dam turn over half of the salary he had received as Acting Governor. When the latter declined, Cosby sued Van Dam in a court which he created solely for that purpose. (The Trial) To ensure a favorable decision, Cosby bypassed the jury from his case and instead appointed the Supreme Court of New York to hear and decide the collection suit at first instance. Van Dam challenged the legality and constitutionality of this act but he lost on a vote of two to one. Two Supreme Court justices voted in favor of the constitutionality of Cosby’s act while the lone dissenter was Justice Lewis Morris. Later, Cosby demanded Morris to explain why he voted against him. Morris filed his explanation via an open letter which was published by Zenger. As a result, Morris was fired and replaced by James Delancey. (The Trial) After he was fired, Morris founded the Popular Party together with Van Dam and lawyer James Alexander, under which Morris ran as candidate for Assemblyman. His victory was reported in great detail in the maiden issue of the New York Weekly Journal published on November 5, 1733 which was owned by the partnership of Zenger and Alexander. For months, The New York Weekly Journal published attacks and criticisms against the unpopular incumbent governor. Alexander writes the articles and Zenger prints them. (The Trial) When these attacks came out, Cosby tried but failed to get an indictment from the Grand Jury on the ground that the author of the said attacks is unknown. In response, an outraged Cosby issued an order dated October 22, 1734 mandating that issue numbers 7, 47, 48 and 49 of The New York Weekly Journal “be burned by the hands of the common hangman or whipper… as containing in them many things tending to sedition and faction, to bring His Majesty’s government into contempt.” (Order for the Public Burning of Zenger's Journals) At about the same time, Cosby also offered a reward of fifty pounds to whoever shall have information on the identity of the libelous publication’s authors. However, when there were no takers for his considerable offer, Attorney General Richard Bradley was ordered to file the information for seditious libel against Zenger, the only identifiable person behind the publications. After which, a bench warrant dated November 2, 1734 was issued for the arrest of Zenger. Among others, the warrant states that Zenger is facing charges for “printing and publishing several seditious libels dispersed throughout his journals or ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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