the printer's trial: the case of john peter zenger and the fight for a free press

activities

This book can be used to meet the Common Core and State Standards in Language Arts/English and Social Studies/U.S. History. Zenger’s 1735 trial in New York helped to form a foundation for the U.S. Constitution and later the Bill of Rights. The political issues of the Colonial period can be used as the basis for debates, opinion and explanatory writing, and research.

  • Recreate Zenger’s Freedom of the Press trial using as a guide James Alexander’s narrative of the trial. Have class members take roles as prosecuting and defense attorneys, judges, jurors, witnesses, and spectators. (www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-01/History_Tryal-John-Peter-Zenger.pdf).
  • Make a list of the people involved in the Zenger case. How was each responsible for Zenger’s arrest and the outcome of his trial?
  • Explain the reasons behind the launching of the New-York Weekly Journal newspaper. Did the Journal’s founders succeed in their goals? Argue your position.
  • Read articles from the New-York Weekly Journal. What techniques did the authors use to persuade readers?
  • Find an example of journalism today that was started solely for political reasons. Has that journalistic effort succeeded or failed? Give proof and reasons for its success or failure.
  • Why has Zenger’s name come down through history as the hero of this trial? Does he deserve the fame? Are others more deserving? Support your position with evidence.

 

More to explore

See these sites for additional activities and instructional materials for teaching about Freedom of the Press and the Constitution:

www.firstamendmentcenter.org/
www.billofrightsinstitute.org/
www.usconstitution.net/
www.constitutioncenter.org/