ERIC Number: ED244276
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1984-Aug
Reference Count: 0
The Authority of Truth: Religion and the John Peter Zenger Case.
Nord, David Paul
An appreciation of the religious milieu of the John Peter Zenger libel case of 1735 can help explain the nature of the Zenger defense as prepared by Alexander Hamilton, the meaning of the jury's verdict, and the ambiguous legacy of the trial for freedom of expression in the United States. In essence, the case was a disputation on "truth" and on how truth is revealed to humans. Because this issue lay at the heart of Protestant religion as well as of colonial politics, the Zenger case may be seen as an interesting intersection of the two. Indeed, the case and the jury's verdict were closely associated with the spirit of the Great Awakening of religion. Like the Great Awakening, the Zenger case reflected the skepticism about human authority felt by ordinary people who possessed a deep faith in the existence of God and of truth. Like the ministers of "awakened" congregations, who were willing to reject the authority of creeds and hierarchies, the Zenger jurors were willing to reject the instructions of the chief justice of New York. Like the revival converts who asserted their right to interpret the law of God, the Zenger jury asserted the right of ordinary people to interpret human law. In both instances, the operative principle was not freedom, but truth. (FL)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers; Opinion Papers; Historical Materials
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Journalism History; Libel; Zenger (John Peter)
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (67th, Gainesville, FL, August 5-8, 1984).