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Print Depicting the Trial of John Peter Zenger, c. 1950

Print illustration of John Peter Zenger's Trial

Print illustration of John Peter Zenger's Trial

New York State Library, NYSL_Zenger_Trial_Illustration
 
Document Description
Print depicting the trial of John Peter Zenger, published c. 1950. Signed by the artist David C. Lithgow.
 
Questions
After breaking the illustration into quadrants, what do you see and what do you believe this shows about the trail of John Peter Zenger?
 
Why do you believe the illustrator chose to have sun shining through the window in the illustration?
 
What argument does the author of the caption put forth? What evidence in the text tells you this?
 
What was the purpose of this document?
 
 
Historical Challenges
Research other examples of limits to freedom of speech in American history.  In what ways have governments, including the US government, tried to limit freedom of speech?  What opposition to these limits have people expressed?
 
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Imagine you are a member of the jury during this trial.  Write a diary entry expressing your view of what is occurring during the trial.
 
 

Historical Context
The social and political seeds of revolution can be found as far back as 1734, with the trial of John Peter Zenger. Zenger was a German immigrant and the editor of a New York newspaper, The New-York Weekly Journal. The paper frequently printed articles critical of the British government. In November of 1734, Zenger was arrested and accused of libel for unjustly attacking the reputation of the royal governor of New York. His trial began in July of 1735. In Zenger’s time, publishing any information that was in opposition to the government was considered libel. But Zenger’s lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, argued that it couldn’t be libel if it was true. Zenger won the trial, winning an important victory for freedom of the press and freedom of speech in the colonies. This freedom was increasingly important as the colonies moved toward independence.
 
 
Essential Question
What were some of the ways that colonists expressed their opinions about and debated social and political issues in the years leading up to the Revolution?
 
Check for Understanding
Students should answer the following question with evidence from the document.
 
How does this document illustrate the feelings of colonists during the trial of John Peter Zenger?