Andrew Hamilton told the jury in the trial of John Peter Zenger, “The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the jury, is .... may in its consequence affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty. And I make no doubt but your upright conduct this day will not only entitle you to the love and esteem of your fellow citizens, but every man who prefers freedom to a life of slavery will bless and honor you as men who have baffled the attempt of tyranny, and by an impartial and uncorrupt verdict have laid a noble foundation for securing to ourselves, our posterity, and our neighbors, that to which nature and the laws of our country have given us a right to liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power (in these parts of the world at least) by speaking and writing truth.” The jury deliberated for a short time before returning with a “Not guilty.” Shouts of joy rang from the crowd of spectators. Judge Delancey unsuccessfully demanded order, even threatening spectators with arrest and imprisonment, but he hastily left the courtroom to the cheering crowd. Although the Zenger trial did not establish new law with respect to seditious libel, it gave birth to a free and open press in America and within a half-century members of the First Congress debated the proposed Bill of Rights.

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Frank Parlato

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