Freedom in the History of America
Freedom, especially of the press, is extremely dependent on the public knowledge of the injustices that happen, or are likely to happen, with regards to freedom. This is the case that relates ideally to the United States. It is one of the nations in the world that is well known for the provision of the laws that ensure freedom for its citizens. However, this was not the case from time immemorial. There were times when freedom was not known to the American citizens. Just as democracy, the acquisition of freedom takes time, since it is a long, sequential, and continuous process.
There has been no democracy in the world, without the existence of a free press. This is because the press identifies the ills that are carried out by the governments all over the world. The government is more powerful than anybody in any nation. Therefore, the only way that it can be kept in check is through the freedom of the press. This way, people can learn about each and every activity carried out by the government. The most important example that is going to be considered in this essay is the trial of John Peter Zenger in 1735. Zenger was an immigrant, who used to publish the New York Weekly Journal (Zenger, James & Katz 1-20). This publication was largely used to reveal the actions of the then existent royal government in a harsh way. This was a man, who did not fear the laws that were used at the time. He took his time to express whatever he felt needed to be expressed. Of course, this triggered the negative reaction from the government.
The New York Weekly journal accused the government of the two serious actions. First, it claimed that the government was rigging elections. This was an accusation that portrayed the government as the one that did not have respect for the say of the public. Also, it accused the government of allowing the French government to explore the New York harbor. It labeled the governor as an idiot and associated him with a series of crimes. Zenger was not the initial writer of these accusations. However, the mere fact that he agreed to publish them showed that he was of the same opinion. It also shows that he had huge regard for the freedom of expression. However, he was hauled to jail, despite the fact that he did not write these articles himself. This is because the authors of these accusations were anonymous; yet, he could not name them. In 1733, Zenger was accused of libel. In the present day, this is a word that may not have any meaning. This is due to the deeds of people such as Zenger. This was a term that meant publishing any information that opposed the government. The true value of this printed information was extremely irrelevant. This means that even if the information printed was undoubtedly true if it opposed the government, it was punishable by the law. During the verdict, Zenger did not deny printing these articles. Instead, he just accepted and chose to believe in the system to judge between right and wrong (Zenger, James & Katz 1-20).
When the case began, the court was packed with a jury that comprised of the individuals that were on the payroll of William Cosby. Therefore, it had to be compromised. However, Zenger's wife was more like her husband. She kept the press rolling and ensured that people of America knew about the composition of this jury. This caused much pressure on the government. After receiving information from its advisors, the jury was replaced by a true one. This was a jury of Zenger's peers. It was a jury that did not owe anything to Zenger or William Cosby, the governor. This way, the people were sure that the verdict would be completely impartial. Andrew Hamilton, who was the most famous lawyer among the colonies, defended Zenger. The conviction that he had was the same that was portrayed by Zenger. He pleaded to the court to look at the most important matters of the case (Dumond 90-105).
Instead of charging Zenger with libel, they should have been looking into the truths in the information he had published. Therefore, he challenged the government to prove that the allegations made were false. He claimed that his client should be released. He also pointed out that his main concern was not just a poor printer, but the promotion of liberty that would come to be enjoyed for a long time in America. After his speech, the judge ordered the present jury to convict him, if they were convinced that he had printed the stories. The jury asked for a short time and it was granted. After about ten minutes, they came back with a verdict of "not guilty". After this verdict, the courtroom was filled with cheers. People were happy that Zenger was not jailed. However, this was more than just about Zenger. The fact that people did not understand was that it was now more than just Zenger; that the hearing of this case and the verdict were a building block to liberty in the United States. For a long time, Zenger and Hamilton were referred to as heroes all over the United States. There were other activities that occurred during this period to help to bring freedom to the people of America. However, this is just the initial stage of the process. This means that there were many other stages that had to be gone through by this nation before the realization of true freedom. However, this is one of the best, as well as the most memorable events that took place to that effect. Although they won this verdict, true freedom, with regards to the press, was not known until the first amendment was passed. This takes this essay to another vital period to the realization of freedom in America (Dumond 90-105).
Years after the Zenger's trial, as well as many other activities that happened for the course of freedom, the First Amendment (Amendment 1), was made. This was in 1791. Before looking into the provisions that were described in this amendment, it is vital to look at the pre-existent laws. As it has been seen with the Zenger trial, it was extremely punishable to oppose the government. As a matter of fact, Zenger had not been arrested for providing false information. Instead, he had just published the thoughts of his authors. Therefore, it is clear that the Constitution did not allow the free expression of views to the public. This was the scenario that was eliminated by the introduction of the First Amendment. The addition of this amendment to the constitution of the United States prohibited coming up with any laws that respected an establishment of religion; therefore, preventing the free exercise of religion. It also prevented the making of laws that could be abridging freedom, with regards to speech. Thirdly, this amendment prevented forming of the laws that infringed the freedom granted to the press (Bartlett 50-72). This was the most important provision of this amendment since the press is one of the most vital tools in fighting the ills of the society. Other laws that the amendment prevented were the ones that prevented people from peacefully assembling, as well as the laws preventing petition for the redress of grievances by a government.
The First Amendment was marked as one of the most crucial steps towards the acquisition of freedom by the American people. This is because it was the one that took some power from the government. A very powerful government is a dangerous tool towards the prohibition of poverty. Before the first amendment, people used to live in fear. If any citizen had thoughts that were in opposition with those of the government, they had to keep them to themselves. This is because the constitution had provisions that protected the government from the eye of the public. However, it was later noticed that true freedom of the people lied in allowing them to acquire and share information freely, regardless of its nature. Words like "libel" ceased to exist in the vocabulary of courts. This was also a vital step towards the development of America. The reason behind this is that when the government can be attacked and corrected positively, it is more likely to perform better than before. However, having a government that carries out its activities in secrecy is as dangerous for the freedom of people, as it is to the development of the goals of the nation. After this period, a way was paved for the laws in the Constitution that provided the freedom of expression of the American public. When the First Amendment was first introduced, it had only narrow implications. However, these have increased with time in an exponential way. Therefore, it formed the basis of all the arguments that were later presented in the solving of court cases (Bartlett 50-72).
After the laws have been put in place, the remaining task is to put these into actions. Sometimes, the laws might be applied in a way that favors a particular group of people. This calls for the individuals, who can be brave enough to come up with a course of action to put an end to this. This takes the essay to another era in American history, where abolitionism was at the peak. Abolitionism is a term that describes any movement aimed at ending slavery. In America, even after the provision of the laws in the first amendment, there was no freedom to a particular race of people. This is because slavery was still at the peek. For this reason, there was a great need to come up with the ways to make all men equal. There was no way that the government could claim that its people had freedom; yet, people were not given equal rights (Stowe & Jean 14-20).
Between 1780 and 1800, Pennsylvania passed legislation that abolished slavery. Sometimes, they even used gradual emancipation. Massachusetts was also able to ratify a Constitution that declared all men to be equal. Slavery suits that challenged any activities that favored slavery were put up. However, it did not augur well with some other states. For example, in Virginia, these laws were interpreted to exclude Africans. During the following decade, the abolitionist movement grew by a large magnitude. This was especially so in the northern states. The continued abolitionist movements ensured that the slave trade came to an end. Books like "Uncle Tom Cabin" started becoming the most read books in America. This is because they portrayed the relentless fight against the slave trade. It also advocated for peace in the course. Individuals that were known to be abolitionists became famous, since they were also enhancing the freedom of people. Along with the civilization process of Americans, people were able to accept and fight for their freedom, and got it in the end (Ferrell 32-45).
The revision of this issue of abolitionism might seem different from the issue of freedom. However, this is not the case. It only diverts the relevant attention towards the matter. However, it is vital to remember that freedom was the major issue of concern in this essay. Therefore, all the developments that have been made, with the inclusion of the the three historical periods, were to that effect. The similar deduction that can be obtained from all these periods is that it has been a real struggle for the American people to achieve their freedom. They have undertaken a large path up to the realization of the freedom that is experienced in that nation in the present day.
It is clear that freedom of the press is extremely instrumental for the acquisition of general freedom. This is because allowing of the press to exercise their freedom led to most American citizens knowing all the things that were going on all over the nation. Ills in the government were now pointed out without any reasonable doubts that appropriate action would be taken. At last, there were the new ways, in which American citizens could run their own country. From the issue of abolitionism, it is also clear that all the freedoms that were granted by the Constitution applied to each and every individual in the nation. Race was just but a representation of the other divides that exist in this society. The American people were able to move past these divides and ensure that there is total freedom in the nation (Ferrell 32-45).
The major deduction that can be made from this essay with regards to freedom is that is an acquisition that can only be made if people are able to air their views fearlessly, and take affirmative action in accordance with the law. From the essay, it is clear that the most initial stages in achieving freedom in America involved the press. After the press received its freedom, the process became more and more rapid. This proves that the promotion of freedom depends on the public awareness of the freedom that it is due. This way, a lot of pressure is put on the government, and it is forces to yield to the claims and demands of its people.
- Bartlett, Jonathan. The First Amendment in a Free Society. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1979. Print.
- Dumond, Dwight Lowell. Antislavery; the Crusade for Freedom in America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961. Print.
- Ferrell, Claudine L. The Abolitionist Movement. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. Print.
- Stowe, Harriet Beecher, & Jean Fagan Yellin. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Oxford: Oxford University, Press, 1998. Print.
- Zenger, John Peter, James Alexander, & Stanley Nider Katz. A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger, Printer of The New York Weekly Journal. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1963. Print.