Sunday, May 10, 2009

John Peter Zenger and Freedom of the Press. The New York Weekly Journal

President Obama is directly responsible for this post, by virtue of the comments he made yesterday iat the National Press Club about the importance of free speech and journalism.
I am often asked what the earliest item in my collection is. The New York Weekly Journal, printed by John Peter Zenger was started in 1733, eight years prior to what is generally considered the first magazine.
I obtained the first three issues (the first being only the latter portion) from a run sold at Sotheby's in the 1990's. While the issues surrounding Zenger's famous trial for seditious libel are the most coveted by newspaper historians, from a purely historical standpoint, I like mine alot better. The opening essay by "Cato" a pseudonym of either John Trenchard or Willam Gordon begins "The freedom of the press is a subject of the greatest importance", and goes on to explain why. This is the beginning of American thought on the subject we hold so dear. Fifty-five years later, the very first amendment to the Constitution on the United States made it official.

Further writing of this most important publication, codified by the trial, established the principal that the press was able to print defamatory material, as long as it was found to be true.

Sorry for the brevity of this post but I'm still quite busy finishing my new book (aside, of course, from also running a practice of neurology)- now available for pre-sale on

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