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Old 06-26-2013, 02:29 PM
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
48,322 posts, read 20,251,246 times
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We are a diverse group with many people who have specialized knowledge of specific areas of history. This thread invites you to contribute from your bank of knowledge in any area, but with the common theme of how things got started. Hopefully the example I provide below will clarify this idea.

The Origins of Free Speech In America...The Zenger Trial

In August of 1735 in New York city, Peter Zenger, who had been held in custody for eight months, was placed on trial for sedition and libel. Zinger made his living as a printer and his crime had been to publish public complaints about the heavy handed administration of the crown appointed Royal Governor, William Cosby.

Appointments to royal administrative jobs in the colonies were not done on the basis of merit, rather they represented the King returning favors done for him by wealthy British aristocrats. It was understood by both the crown and the appointee that the reward part was that the administrator could use the office to enrich himself to whatever degree he could. The consequence was a wildly varying quality of governors. Some took the job seriously and made efforts to improve life for the colonials, others, such as Cosby, had no interest in the job apart from the wealth it would generate for them.

Cosby demanded 50% kickbacks on all the salary paid to his royal appointees, removed able men from offices in favor of loyalist stooges, intervened in trials to dismiss cases brought against his supporters, rigged elections so that only his handpicked candidates could win, and radiated the general impression of an arbitrary tyrant exercising power for the benefit of the few.

Zenger, a German immigrant, had published a series of articles criticizing Cosby for his high handed ways. Cosby was offended and ordered Zenger arrested and charged with seditious libel, a crime on the English books since the 15th century, and one which specifically stated that the truth of seditious statements was no defense.

At this point in the development of western culture, free speech was still in the frontier stages. The writings of John Locke on the subject had influenced millions of Europeans and Americans, but as yet had not been codified into law anywhere. What one could say about the crown was still controlled by the crown. Because of this, Cosby, who had appointed all of the court judges, was completely confident that Zenger would be convicted and jailed. The law had been violated, truth was no defense, Zenger had no case.

What Zenger did have was a remarkable legal mind in his corner in the form of Philadelphia attorney Andrew Hamilton, a Scottish immigrant who traveled to New York and took on the case pro bono out of his concern for the suppression of rights. Knowing that the prosecution and judge were in league and that a directed verdict was the most likely outcome, Zenger ignored the judge in favor of appealing directly to the jury. He did not contest the facts of the case but rather the validity of the law. He reminded the jurors that they were the first line of defense against bad laws, and that regardless of directions from the bench, they remained free to deliver whatever verdict they found just. He then proceeded to shred the thinking behind the libel law, showing how it was a suppressive instrument for the abuse of power. He concluded by asking the relevant question...how could any men consider themselves free if they were not to be allowed to complain about those in positions of authority? How could corruption ever be stopped, how could justice ever be obtained under such circumstances.

When he was finished the judge instructed the jury to ignore everything Hamilton had said and return a verdict of guilty. The jury retired for ten minutes and returned with a verdict of not guilty.

The Wiki article on Zenger incorrectly states that the case "determined that truth was a defense against charges of libel." Actually it did not, the law was not changed as a consequence of this verdict. What was determined was that juries could nullify bad laws if they saw fit to do so. While the law remained on the books, the message had been sent regarding what will happen if crown authorities attempted to enforce it. If truth was not a legal defense against libel, it was a defacto defense. The precedent established ultimately did become law in America, but was not codified as such until the end of the 18th Century.

Cosby died of tuberculosis less than a year after the trial. Zenger survived for another eleven years.

Artist depiction of the trial

Governor Cosby

Andrew Hamilton

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Old 06-26-2013, 03:37 PM
Location: University City, Philadelphia
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Originally Posted by Grandstander View Post

What Zenger did have was a remarkable legal mind in his corner in the form of Philadelphia attorney Andrew Hamilton, a Scottish immigrant who traveled to New York and took on the case pro bono out of his concern for the suppression of rights.

The verdant and bucolic estate of Andrew Hamilton "The Woodlands" still exists ... it is but 3 blocks from my house. The elegant Federal style manor house built by his grandson William in 1789 still stands. Most of the estate was sold to a cemetery company in 1840 and it is a Victorian "rural" or "garden type" cemetery, the cemetery offices are located in the mansion. Famous people are buried there such as Admiral Porter, the artist Thomas Eakins, the wealthy Drexel banking family, and even the Mr. Campbell who started Campbell's Soup.
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Old 06-27-2013, 11:29 AM
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
48,322 posts, read 20,251,246 times
Reputation: 20738

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.

Everyone is familiar with the song that came to be closely associated with the American Revolution. How many know what that last line means...."..called it macaroni?"

The song Yankee Doodle had British origins during the French and Indian War. It was designed to mock the continental militias. Sung with a deliberate imitation of the New England nasal drawl, the original lyrics concerned amateur farmers and merchants who talked big about beating the French and then fled from the field when confronted with the foe.

Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
And bought him a Commission;
And then he went to Canada
To fight for the Nation;

But when Ephraim he came home
He proved an arrant Coward,
He wouldn't fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devour'd.
:::► Dictionary of Meaning www.mauspfeil.net ◄:::

After the war the song remained popular among the British, with various new versions being written to reflect the change to peace, but the idea was still mockery of the uppity Yanks. In the mid to late 1760's, a new fashion swept England and the European continent which involved men dressing up in a peacock manner, loud colors and excessive everything, including makeup and wigs. The young men of London who adopted this craze called themselves the "Macaroni." Before long the word macaroni came to describe their foo-fooery.

Thus....when Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni, this was more mockery, the backwoods continentals trying to join in the fashion via the crude solution of a feather in the hat.

When the revolution began, Americans who had formerly experienced feelings of inferiority to their sophisticated British cousins, now developed an attitude of superiority. Their rough shod ways became badges of honor, their homespun clothing became uniforms of pride...and the song Yankee Doodle was reversed from the Brits mocking the yokels, to the hardy frontiersmen of the new world mocking the airs of the old world aristocrats. Now when Yankee Doodle put that feather in his hat, he was no longer trying to imitate British sophistication, he was making sport of it. It became the song of the rebellion, and in fact was played during the surrender ceremony at Saratoga and Yorktown.
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Old 06-27-2013, 01:50 PM
Location: Pennsylvania
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The Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia is one of the most historic in the country, established in 1683 by German settlers of the Quaker and Mennonite faiths. It remained distinct from Philadelphia until annexed in the mid 19th century. Just five years after its inception, it was the site of the first recorded protest in the long, deadly slog over the matter of slavery, the origin of the abolition movement.

A new colony meant the need for labor. William Penn was the venerable Quaker at the head of the colony who is noted for his vision of a utopian society that favored freedoms absent in other colonies; he was also a realist. He not only allowed the ownership of African slaves, he partook of the trade himself.

In 1688, four of the Germantown Quaker settlers met at the home of Tunes Kunders and drafted a detailed outline of the reasons that slavery was wrong on a human scale and a damaging practice for the colony. They presented the protest to the community at Germantown Friends Weekly Meeting (a community that exists to this day). The members believed this document was above their pay scale to address and presented it to the wider monthly meeting, who likewise punted it to the quarterly, then annual meeting of the Society of Friends. While likely interesting fodder for discussion, no action was taken.

However, this first formal stab at abolition was certainly not the last. Subsequent protests led the Quaker community in Pennsylvania to condemn the practice for its members by the mid 1700's. Many others from outside the Quaker community had joined, and continued to join the movement.

Of the original protesters, Francis Daniel Pastorius, the big cheese in the planning and settlement of Germantown, has his name honored by a Germantown elementary school and a park in nearby Chestnut Hill, as well as street names.

While overshadowed in the tourist trade by the attractions in Center City like Independence Hall, Germantown itself is a must-see for history buffs.

First Protest Against Slavery
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