John Peter Zenger

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Johann "John" Peter Zenger (born October 26, 1697 in Impflingen , † July 28, 1746 in New York ) was a German-American publicist and publisher . His acquittal on the charge of defamation in 1735 contributed significantly to the establishment of freedom of the press in the United States, which was constituted as a human right in the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence .


In 1710 Zenger emigrated with his parents from the Palatinate to New York . His father Nicolaus Eberhard Zenger died during the crossing with the emigrant ship "Queen Ann". In New York, the boy was trained as a printer with William Bradford . In 1719 he married Mary White and settled with her temporarily in Maryland . After the death of his wife, he returned to New York in 1722, where he married Ann Catherina Moulin that same year. In 1733, at the suggestion of some Quakers around the lawyer James Alexander, who were looking for a platform for their dissatisfaction with the new governor of New York Sir William Cosby , he founded the New York Weekly Journal, his own newspaper and a counterpoint to the government Journal of his former teacher, the New-York Gazette . A series of articles, written by anonymous authors, have now appeared that were unflattering to the authorities. In 1734 Zenger was charged with defamation of the governor and imprisoned. He exerted strong political influence on the process, for example by choosing two judges who were well-disposed towards him. Two of Zenger's defense lawyers were deprived of their license in the course of the proceedings. On August 5, 1735, to the public surprise, the jury found Zenger not guilty of the trial.

This judgment laid the foundation for freedom of the press in the history of newspapers in the United States . Since 1954, the Institute for Journalism at the University of Arizona has awarded an annual commemorative award, currently entitled John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger Award for Freedom of the Press and the People's Right to Know .


  • Herbert Hartkopf: Trappers, Scouts & Pioneers from the Electoral Palatinate. Verlag Regionalkultur, Ubstadt -Weiher, 2009, ISBN 978-3-89735-601-6 , p. 23 ff.
  • Knud Krakau: A 'wrong judgment' with consequences. 'John' Peter Zenger. In: Michael Haller , Walter Hömberg (eds.): »I won't let my mouth be forbidden!« Journalists as pioneers of freedom of the press and democracy. Reclam, Ditzingen 2020, ISBN 978-3-15-011277-9 , pp. 27-30.

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