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Zenger, John P. (1697-1746) New-York weekly journal. [Vol. 932, no. 19 (March 11, 1734)]

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC08724 Author/Creator: Zenger, John P. (1697-1746) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Newspaper Date: 11 March 1733[4] Pagination: 4 p. ; 28 x 18 cm.

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Summary of Content: Quotes "Cato" on the importance of opposition and controls upon political power: "Political jealousy, therefore, in the people is a necessary and laudable passion." Reports on foreign affairs particularly relating to the War on the Polish Succession. Also reports that there was a slave revolt in St. John's where 60 whites were killed. Includes a published letter submitted by James Alexander (principal author of the journal's editorials) and William Smith asking Zenger to publicly apologize to Mr. Harison and the Honourable Committee for injuring the names of both parties. The journal consists of several sections which include editorials, foreign affairs, entires and departures of the New York Customs House, and advertisements.

Background Information: German-born printer John Peter Zenger emigrated to America in 1710 and became an apprentice in the printing office of William Bradford the elder. On 5 November, 1733, Zenger began publishing the "New York ...Weekly Journal" which became the organ of the party that was opposed to the provincial governor. Its lampoons severely attacked the government and greatly contributed toward the loosening of bonds between England and the colonies. Zenger's subsequent trial- and acquittal-on charges of libel has been termed "the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America." In October of 1734, New York governor William Cosby ordered his chief justice to charge the Journal with libel; twice however, the grand jury refused to return indictments, citing a lack of evidence regarding the identity of the author of the libels. The governor then ordered the hangman to burn the offending papers in the presence of the mayor and magistrates. Unable to prosecute the likely author of the libels, his opponent James Alexander, Cosby had a bench order issued for Zenger's arrest, and on 17 November 1734 the printer was imprisoned for " printing and publishing several seditious libels." Zenger's friends employed Andrew Hamilton, the original " Philadelphia lawyer," to defend him. As the case revolved around freedom of the press in America, all the central colonies regarded the controversy as their own. At trial Hamilton justified Zenger's publication by asserting its truth. " You cannot be permitted," the chief justice interrupted, " to give the truth of libel in evidence." "Then," Hamilton aid to the jury, "we appeal to you for witnesses of the facts. the jury have a right to determine both the law and the fact, and they ought to do so. The question before you is not the cause of a poor printer, not of New York alone; it is the cause of liberty, the liberty of opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing truth." On 4 August 1735, the jury returned a "not guilty" verdict and Zenger, released from his 35-week imprisonment, was received with tumultuous applause. After his death, Zenger's widow and son John conducted the Journal until 1752.See More

Full Transcript: Mr. Zenger, Pray insert the following sentiments of Cato, and you'll oblige Yours, &c.

Considering what sort of a Creature Man is, it is scarce possible to put him under ...too many restraints, when he is possessed of great Power: He may possibly use it well; but they act most prudently, who supposing that he would use it ill enclose him within certain Bounds and make it terrible to him to exceed them.

It is nothing strange, that Men, who think themselves unaccountable, should act unaccountably, and that all Men would be unaccountable if they could...; and no Man cares to be at the entire Mercy of another. Hence it is that if every Man had his Will, all Men would exercise Dominion, and no Man would suffer it. It is therefore owning more to the Necessities of Men, than to their Inclinations, that they have put themselves under the Restraint of Laws, and appointed certain persons, called Magistrates, to execute them; otherwise they would never be executed, scarce any Man having such a Degree of Virtue as unwillingly to execute the Laws upon himself....

Hence grew the Necessity of Government, which was the mutual Contract of a Number of Men, agreeing upon certain Terms of Union and Society, and putting themselves under Penalties if they violated these terms, which were called Laws, and put into the Hands of one or more Men to execute. And thus men quitted Part of their natural Liberty to acquire civil Security. But frequently the Remedy prov'd worse than the Disease; and humane Society had often no enemies so great as their own Magistrates; who, wherever they were trusted with too much Power, always abused it, and grew mischievous to those who made them what they were. Rome, while she was free, (that is, while she kept her Magistrates within due bounds) could defend herself against all the world, and conquer it; but being enslaved (that is her Magistrates having broke their Bounds) she could not defend her self against her own single Tyrants; nor could they defend her against her foreign Foes and Invaders: For by their Madness and Cruelties they had destroyed her Virtue and Spirit, and exhausted her Strength....

The common People generally think that great Men have great Minds, and scorn base Actions; which Judgment is so false, that the basest and worst of all Actions have been done by great Men; perhaps they have not picked private Pockets, but they have done worse, they have often disturbed, deceived and pillaged the World: And he who is capable of the highest Mischiefs, is capable of the Meanest. He who plunders a Country of Millions of Money, would in suitable Circumstances steal a Silver Spoon; and a Conqueror, who steals and pillages a Kingdom, would in an humbler Fortune rifle a Portmanteau or rob an Orchard.

Political Jealousy, therefore, in the people is a necessary and laudable Passion. But in a Chief Magistrate, a Jealousy of his People is not so justifiable, their Ambition being only to preserve themselves; whereas it is natural for Power to be striving to enlarge itself, and to be encroaching upon those that have none.... Now because Liberty chastises and shortens Power, therefore Power would extinguish Liberty; and consequently Liberty has too much cause to be exceeding jealous and always upon her Defence. Power has many Advantages over her; it has generally numerous Guards, many Creatures, and much Treasure; besides it has more Craft and Experience, and less Honesty and Innocence: And whereas Power can, and for the most Part does subsist where Liberty is not, Liberty cannot subsist without Power; so that she has, as it were, the Enemy always at her Gates.

To Conclude: Power without Control appertains to God alone; and no Man ought to be trusted with what no Man is equal to. In Truth, there are so many passions and Inconsistencies, and so much Selfishness, belonging to humane Nature, that we can scarce be too much upon our Guard against each other. The only Security we have that men will be Honest, is to make it their Interest to be Honest; and the best Defence we can have against their being Knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be Knaves. As there are many Men, wicked in some Stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make Wickedness unsafe in any Station.

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People: Zenger, John Peter, 1697-1746
Alexander, James, 1691-1756

Historical Era: Colonization and Settlement, 1585-1763

Subjects: Government and CivicsPoliticsJournalismGlobal History and CivicsForeign AffairsMilitary HistorySlave RebellionSlaveryAfrican American HistoryMassacreCaribbean

Sub Era: Slavery & Anti-slavery

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