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The Printer's Trial


Found in: language arts & literature, social studies, preK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

The Printer's Trial: The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press (2006) is a book by Gail Jarrow (102 pages). The events related in The Printer’s Trial begins in 1732 with the arrival in New York of a new colonial governor. Rumors of William Cosby’s greed and dishonesty preceded his arrival and were quickly confirmed by his actions. Cosby attempted to squeeze money from Rip Van Dam, the man who had served as temporary governor. When Judge Lewis Morris refused to support Cosby’s attempt, Cosby stripped Morris of his judgeship. Both the governor and New Yorkers made their case in the press. Zenger was the printer/publisher responsible for printing colonial accusations against the governor. Cosby had Zenger arrested and imprisoned for libel. The Zenger trial (1735) helped establish truth as a defense against charges of libel and the right of the people to criticize government in print. In 1791, Freedom of Speech was guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Jarrow’s history of Zenger’s landmark trial alternates pages of narrative with contemporary images, documents, and biographical information. She has included a list of print and Web resources for further study. The book can introduce grade K-8 social studies and language arts students to the first case in the United States concerning freedom of speech. For grade 9-12 English and journalism students, it summarizes issues involved and suggests areas of research. This book is FREE at your local library or available for sale at Amazon.com.

We've gathered more web information on the Zenger trial:

  • Jarrow recommended The Trial of John Peter Zenger. This website includes a legal discussion of the First Amendment.
  • First Amendment Timeline is an extensive overview of precedent setting legal cases from 1215 to 2011.For example, Bill of Rights is an online game for students in grades 2-6 in which they help rebuild the Bill of Rights by finding the missing rights and freedoms in Freeville. And in a two-part lesson, high school students learn about ethical and honest reporting and research plagiarism to understand copyright laws in Understanding the First Amendment and Copyright. ( PDF, 156 KB, 7 pgs.)
  • Of historical interest, Studio One: The Trial of John Peter Zenger (1953) (59:20) is available on YouTube. The program was televised during the McCarthy Era and offers another opportunity to look at the role of journalism in protecting rights.

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