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THE ZENGER TRIAL AND FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: Should the Government Be Able to Stop Printers from Publishing What They Want?
In 1733, John Peter Zenger, publisher of The New-York Weekly Journal, printed articles criticizing the colonial government. He was arrested the following year and later charged with the crime of being “a frequent printer and publisher of false news and seditious libels.” At his trial in 1735, prosecutors argued that publishing derogatory information about the government encouraged divisiveness and conflict, which could lead to violence and discord. Defenders argued that the public should have access to divergent opinions and that the press should have the freedom to publish what it wants without fear of censorship or intimidation.
Let your students get the facts and decide for themselves: Should the government be allowed to stop printers from publishing what they want in colonial America? Or should printers be free to print whatever they want? Be sure to check out Issues & Controversies in American History’s clear and unbiased examination of the Zenger trial this month.
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