This monograph derives from a Society of the Cincinnati Address-Lecture given at Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia. The monograph examines the reasons for the charges of seditious libel against John Peter Zenger for publishing the New York Weekly Journal (newspaper) in 1733 and attacking various corruptive polices being pursued by William Cosley, the Colonial Governor of the Provinces of New York and New Jersey. The subsequent trial of Zenger for his journalistic criticisms of the Governor, his acquittal, and his defense by Alexander Hamilton, established the historical significance then, as today, that liberty of conscience and freedom of thought are central to a democracy and, thus, to a free press. Libel is only actionable when defamatory falsehoods are proved; and truth is always a valid defense to an action for defamation.
George P. Smith II, Peter Zenger’s Ordeal: Historical Antecedent to a Concept of Free Press in Early Colonial America, or Is What is Past an Expanding and Somewhat Frightening Prologue to the Future, CUA COLUMBUS SCHOOL OF LAW LEGAL STUD. RESEARCH PAPER NO. 2016-4 (1977).