6. Federal Hall Was the Location of the Peter Zenger Trial
1883 sketch of the Zenger Trial. Image from Wikimedia Commons
In the 1730s, a journalist from Germany named Peter Zenger began printing a publication called the “New York Weekly Journal.” The publication criticized then-royal governor William S. Cosby, accusing him of rigging elections (sound familiar?) among a lot of other major misdeeds.
In 1733, Zenger was accused of libel. In those days, libel was any information that was opposed to the government, whether or not the information was true. During the trial, Zenger’s wife Anna kept the paper running, and her reports resulted in Zenger’s jury being replaced by a true jury of his peers rather than a jury specifically selected by the judge.
Zenger’s lawyer was the famous Andrew Hamilton, who argued that his client must be acquitted for for liberty’s sake. This was one of the cases that paved the way for the American Revolution and the eventual first amendment, which would make freedom of speech a cornerstone of American democracy.
This may not be a secret, per say, as the trial is immensely famous, but this story is too fascinating and relevant to leave off. Today, the definition of freedom of speech is being questioned again, and buildings like the Federal Hall and events like the Zenger trial are important reminders of the founding principals of democracy.