John Peter Zenger (1697-1746) was an American publisher who was charged with sedition and libel. His acquittal in 1734 was an important contribution to freedom of the press in America, as well as the rarely-invoked jury nullification.

John Peter Zenger was an immigrant to New York from Germany, and was printer, publisher, editor, and journalist of The New York Weekly Journal. It was probably financed by one of the political opposition factions in New York, maybe James Alexander. The paper printed many charges against the then-current governor William Cosby. In an attempt to silence the criticism, Zenger was arrested and charged with sedition and libel. It's unclear how personally involved Zenger was with what was written, but in any case, he was the target.

His defense attorney, Andrew Hamilton, was from Philadelphia. Fighting those charges in that time was quite difficult; lawyers who took up that sort of challenge were sometimes disbarred. At the time, many local lawyers felt it was an unwinnable case.

Despite the judges being handpicked by the Governor, the jury returned a "not guilty" verdict. Hamilton successfully argued his case that it wasn't libel because it was true. The judge instructed the jury that truth is not justification for libel; Rather, truth makes the libel more vicious, for public unrest is more likely to follow true, rather than false claims of bad governance. And since the defendant had admitted to the "fact" of publication, only a question of "law" remained. The judge said the "issue of law" was for the court to determine, and he instructed the jury to find the defendant guilty.

It took only ten minutes for the jury to disregard the judge's instructions on the law and find Zenger not guilty. This is known as Jury nullification, a statute that allows a jury to deliver a not-guilty verdict, even if it conflicts with the written law. Under the laws of his time, Zenger was certainly guilty of defaming the governor, though it was true what he wrote. Zenger published a verbatim account of the trial as A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger (1736).

He's probably buried in an unmarked grave in Trinity Churchyard cemetary in Manhattan, New York

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