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Prof. Boerner's Explorations

Thoughts and Essays that explore the world of Technology, Computers, Photography, History and Family.


Archive for November 17th, 2009

Novel idea: Tax the ‘rich’ health care plans to pay for the health bill…

A recent poll by Stanford University has found support for taxing the rich and their ‘high end’ health care plans to pay for the new health care legislation. Lots of debate still awaits this notion, but there is some sense to that idea. I’m not sure that it is just a perception that the rich are getting off easy and that they should bear their share of our quest for the ‘public good’, as exemplified by the health care bill…

AP POLL: Tax the rich to pay for health bill – Yahoo! News 

When it comes to paying for a health care overhaul, Americans see just one way to go: Tax the rich.

That finding from a new Associated Press poll will be welcome news for House Democrats, who proposed doing just that in their sweeping remake of the U.S. medical system, which passed earlier this month and would extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

The poll, conducted by Stanford University with the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found participants sour on other ways of paying for the health overhaul that is being considered in Congress, including taxing insurers on high-value coverage packages derided by President Barack Obama and Democrats as "Cadillac plans." [MORE]

Need a practical gift for that Photographer-wannabe on your list?

B&H Photo has put together a nice video to show you what is out there and what each digital camera provides. This should be a ‘must see’ before going out shopping. Hope this helps you narrow down the field and select an appropriate camera for the holidays…

Great photos for not much green 

You don’t have to spend a lot to get a great digital camera; the Frugal Connoisseur shows you what to look for. [MORE]

by Gerald Boerner


“The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“I’ve never made any picture, good or bad, without paying for it in emotional turmoil.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“Passion is in all great searches and is necessary to all creative endeavors.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“Photography is a small voice, at best, but sometimes one photograph, or a group of them, can lure our sense of awareness.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“With considerable soul searching, that to the utmost of my ability, I have let truth be the prejudice.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“… to became neighbours and friends instead of journalists. This is the way to make your finest photographs.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“Never have I found the limits of the photographic potential. Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“Many claim I am a photographer of tragedy. In the greater sense I am not, for though I often photograph where the tragic emotion is present, the result is almost invariably affirmative.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“I forgot to duck but I got a wonderful shot of those who did… my policy of standing up when the others are down finally caught up with me.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“I…made brash, dashing interpretive photographs which were overly clever and with too much technique.., with great depth of field, very little depth of feeling, and with considerable ‘success’.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“I was after a set of pictures, so that when people looked at them they would say, ‘This is war’–that the people who were in the war would believe that I had truthfully captured what they had gone through… I worked in the framework that war is horrible. I want to carry on what I have tried to do in these pictures. War is a concentrated unit in the world and these things are clearly and cleanly seen. Things like race prejudice, poverty, hatred and bigotry are sprawling things in civilian life, and not so easy to define as war.”
— W. Eugene Smith

“I [Smith] use literature, music and I try to get them [the students] to see in a small ways by teaching them responsibility. For instances, I had a little bottle that said SCOTCH on it and I kept ducking behind the desk to pour myself a drink from it. Everyone was wild, taking pictures of me, trying to sneak a picture of me sneaking a drink. After a while I said: “Okay, you’ve been photographing me drinking from this bottle, so you will distribute pictures to show that I drink while teaching. But you’ve never asked me what’s in the bottle. It’s a bottle of cider – you are very bad reporters!”
— W. Eugene Smith


W. Eugene Smith (1918 – 1978)

36814801smit_20010627_29088.jpg William Eugene Smith  was an American photojournalist known for his refusal to compromise professional standards and his brutally vivid World War II photographs.

Smith graduated from Wichita North High School in 1936. He began his career by taking pictures for two local newspapers, The Wichita Eagle (morning circulation) and the Beacon (evening circulation). He moved to New York City and began work for Newsweek and became known for his incessant perfectionism and thorny personality. Smith was fired from Newsweek for refusing to use medium format cameras and joined Life Magazine in 1939. He soon resigned from Life, too. In 1942 he was wounded while simulating battle conditions for Parade magazine.

Smith_the spinner As a correspondent for Ziff-Davis Publishing and then Life again, Smith entered World War II on the front lines of the island-hopping American offensive against Japan, photographing U.S. Marines and Japanese prisoners of war at Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. On Okinawa, Smith was hit by mortar fire. After recovering, he continued at Life and perfected the photo essay from 1947 to 1954.

In 1950, he was sent to the United Kingdom to cover the General Election, in which the Labour Party, under Clement Attlee, was narrowly victorious. Life had taken an editorial stance against the Labour government. In the end, a limited number of Smith’s photographs of working-class Britain were published, including three shots of the South Wales valleys. In a documentary made by BBC Wales, Professor Dai Smith traced a miner who described how he and two colleagues had met Smith on their way home from work at the pit and had been instructed on how to pose for one of the photos published in Life.

Smith_schweitzerSmith severed his ties with Life over the way in which the magazine used his photographs of Albert Schweitzer. Upon leaving Life, Smith joined the Magnum photo agency in 1955. There he started his project to document Pittsburgh. This project was supposed to take him three weeks, but spanned three years and tens of thousands of negatives. It was too large to ever be shown, although a series of book-length photo essays were eventually produced.

From 1957 to 1965 he took photographs and made recordings of jazz musicians at a Manhattan loft. shared by David X. Young, Dick Cary and Hall Overton.

Complications from his longterm consumption of drugs, notably Amphetamine (taken to enable his workaholic tendencies), and alcohol led to a massive stroke, from which Smith died in 1978.


Smith was perhaps the originator and arguably the master of the photo-essay. In addition to Pittsburgh, these works include Nurse Midwife, Minamata, Country Doctor, and Albert Schweitzer – A Man of Mercy.

Smith_Saipan 1944 Then came the war. In 1942 Gene Smith became a war correspondent first for Ziff-Davis (Flying and Popular Photography) and later for Life. Smith photographed the war, briefly in the Atlantic but most of the time in the bloody island-to-island fighting in the Pacific. During that time he was involved in 26 carrier combat missions and 13 invasions. He was in Okinawa on D-Day and hitch-hiked twelve hundred miles to Guam to be sure that his pictures would get the fastest possible delivery back to Life. Then he returned to the invasion on the first plane on which a correspondent could arrive.

Always known as a photographer who would take almost any chance if it meant getting the picture, Gene Smith’s good luck throughout the Pacific deserted him on May 23, 1945. While on the east coast of Okinawa photographing an essay titled "A Day in the Life of a Front Line Soldier," he was seriously wounded by a Japanese shell fragment. The missile hit him in the head cutting both cheeks, injuring his tongue and knocking out several teeth. Characteristically, he was taking pictures at the time and the fragment passed through his left hand before entering his cheek just below the eye and near the nose. His comment in the hospital later: "I forgot to duck but I got a wonderful shot of those who did… my policy of standing up when the others are down finally caught up with me."

Smith_Walk to Paraadise Garden Smith’s war wounds cost him two painful years of hospitalization and plastic surgery. During these years he took no pictures and whether he would ever be able to return to photography was doubtful. Then one day, during his period of convalescence, Smith took a walk with his two children and even though it was still intensely painful for him to operate a camera, came back with one of the most famous photographs of all time: "A Walk to Paradise Garden." This memorable image was to serve as the final picture in the famous "Family of Man" Exhibition.

Today, Smith’s legacy lives on through the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund to promote "humanistic photography." Since 1980, the fund has awarded photographers for exceptional accomplishments in the field.


Smith_dylanAt the Woodstock Festival in August of 1969 I was taking a general crowd scene photograph by the side of a road when I saw Smith through my viewfinder. He had just driven into the photo and parked his car alongside of the road. I couldn’t quite believe it, because the New York freeway was jammed up. Somehow he had made it through. I walked up to him, with a Leica M-3 around my neck, and he remembered me from Oregon. He had just got to Woodstock after spending some time photographing Bob Dylan in New York City.

We spent the afternoon of the first day together walking around and taking photos. I was at Woodstock with some friends from the underground newspaper that we worked for in New Orleans. We ran into Millie, one of the writers, and the three of us had a simple lunch provided by Ken Kesey’s Hog Farm in the middle of a green pasture. Smith seemed very sympathetic with the peace movement of that time and, I think, felt right at home at Woodstock.

Smith_wasteHe could create a space for himself to give himself the freedom to take photographs. He was so humble that he could melt into the camera, be the camera and be a part, and subject, of whatever he chose to photograph.

I had heard through Jim Hughes that Smith’s daughter was at the Woodstock Festival but I don’t think that they connected. Hughes wrote "Shadow and Substance", a biography of Smith that is excellent reading.

There was a lot of magic at Woodstock. Some of it was probably the anarchic aspect, yet the citizens of Woodstock respected one another, including the police. National Guard jets roaring over the scene casting an immense peace sign with the vapor trails, "high in the sky". So much music and famous performers and so much rain and so many people. Many shamans and spiritual healers were there, true gypsies. It was true for me and having an afternoon with W. Eugene Smith, my photographic idol, was a huge personal magic.

Smith_pittsburgh_factoryThe Photo Essay: Pittsburgh

An assignment which normally would have taken two to three-and-a-half weeks to complete was turned into a tortuous three-year ordeal by W. Eugene Smith that resulted in his essentially unfinished masterpiece, the ‘Pittsburgh" story. He made 11,000 negatives over five months in 1955 and a few weeks in 1957. During this time, Smith’s marriage was breaking up, his health deteriorated, he was threatened with a lawsuit, he ran up huge debts with the agency Magnum Photos, and he went bankrupt himself, leaving his family near destitution, despite the two successive Guggenheim Fellowships he received.

Smith_pittsburgh_steel He saw in this commission the opportunity to expand the form of the photographic essay to the dimension of "an epic in the tradition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass" (W. S. Johnson). Smith moved to Pittsburgh where he improvised a darkroom in his apartment and hired an assistant and a local guide. Working with relentless intensity, he invested all of his financial resources in the project. This project was hampered not only by Smith’s often self-destructive personality and stubhotness, but also by bad luck and legal complications. Lorant’s book finally appeared only in 1964 (with 64 of Smith’s images).

Smith_pittsburgh_goggles Attempting to salvage the work, Magnum arranged for publishing agreements with Look and Life, but they collapsed because Smith, dissatisfied with the page layouts, kept modifying them in an attempt to weave a complex fabric of themes and metaphors with multiple connotations and resonance. The Pittsburgh story has never been published in any form approaching his book-length intentions. The most complete version, in his own layout, comprising 88 photographs covering 37 pages, was published in 1959 Photography Annual. Smith considered it a failure.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

W. Eugene Smith that can be found at…

Other References:

Masters of Photography: W. Eugene Smith’s Photoessay (Pittsburgh)

Masters of Photography: W. Eugene Smith by Tony Hayden

by Gerald Boerner


“The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members.”
— Harry S. Truman

“Humor has a way of bringing people together. It unites people. In fact, I’m rather serious when I suggest that someone should plant a few whoopee cushions in the United Nations.”
— Ron Dentinger

“More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations.”
— Kofi Annan

“From this vision of the role of the United Nations in the next century flow three key priorities for the future: eradicating poverty, preventing conflict and promoting democracy.”
— Kofi Annan

“The United Nations, whose membership comprises almost all the states in the world, is founded on the principle of the equal worth of every human being.”
— Kofi Annan

“If the United Nations does not attempt to chart a course for the world’s people in the first decades of the new millennium, who will?”
— Kofi Annan

“If the United Nations once admits that international disputes can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the foundation of the organization and our best hope of establishing a world order.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower

“The primary, the fundamental, the essential purpose of the United Nations is to keep peace. Everything it does which helps prevent World War III is good. Everything which does not further that goal, either directly or indirectly, is at best superfluous.”
— Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

“The heroes of the world community are not those who withdraw when difficulties ensue, not those who can envision neither the prospect of success nor the consequence of failure — but those who stand the heat of battle, the fight for world peace through the United Nations.”
— Hubert H. Humphrey

“I don’t think any one person or any one organization should have the final word. That being said, I am working for a better United Nations. Nothing is perfect. You should never rely on only one source, but rather rely on those you believe in the most.”
— Angelina Jolie


The United Nations

Emblem_of_the_United_Nations.svg The United Nations Organization (UNO) or simply United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and the achieving of world peace. The UN was founded in 1945 after World War II to replace the League of Nations, to stop wars between countries, and to provide a platform for dialogue. It contains multiple subsidiary organizations to carry out its missions.

There are currently 192 member states, including nearly every sovereign state in the world. From its offices around the world, the UN and its specialized agencies decide on substantive and administrative issues in regular meetings held throughout the year. The organization is divided into administrative bodies, primarily: the General Assembly (the main deliberative assembly); the Security Council (for deciding certain resolutions for peace and security); the Economic and Social Council (for assisting in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development); the Secretariat (for providing studies, information, and facilities needed by the UN); the International Court of Justice (the primary judicial organ).

Additional bodies deal with the governance of all other UN System agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Program (WFP) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The UN’s most visible public figure is the Secretary-General, currently Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who attained the post in 2007. The organization is financed from assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states, and has six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.


Signing_UN_Charter_1945 Following in the wake of the failed League of Nations (1919–1946), which the United States never joined, the United Nations was established in 1945 to maintain international peace and promote cooperation in solving international economic, social and humanitarian problems. The earliest concrete plan for a new world organization was begun under the aegis of the U.S. State Department in 1939. Franklin D. Roosevelt first coined the term ‘United Nations’ as a term to describe the Allied countries.

The term was first officially used on January 1, 1942 when 26 governments signed the Atlantic Charter, pledging to continue the war effort. On 25 April 1945, the UN Conference on International Organization began in San Francisco, attended by 50 governments and a number of non-governmental organizations involved in drafting the Charter of the United Nations. The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945 upon ratification of the Charter by the five permanent members of the Security Council—France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States—and by a majority of the other 46 signatories. The first meetings of the General Assembly, with 51 nations represented, and the Security Council, took place in Westminster Central Hall in London in January 1946.

Since its creation, there has been controversy and criticism of the UN organization. In the United States, an early opponent of the UN was the John Birch Society, which began a "get US out of the UN" campaign in 1959, charging that the UN’s aim was to establish a "One World Government." After the Second World War, the French Committee of National Liberation was late to be recognized by the US as the government of France, and so the country was initially excluded from the conferences that aimed at creating the new organization. Charles de Gaulle criticized the UN, famously calling it le machin ("the stuff"), and was not convinced that a global security alliance would help maintaining world peace, preferring direct defence treaties between countries.

General Assembly

United Nations General Assembly hall.

The General Assembly is the main deliberative assembly of the United Nations. Composed of all United Nations member states, the assembly meets in regular yearly sessions under a president elected from among the member states. Over a two-week period at the start of each session, all members have the opportunity to address the assembly. Traditionally, the Secretary-General makes the first statement, followed by the president of the assembly. The first session was convened on 10 January 1946 in the Westminster Central Hall in London and included representatives of 51 nations.

When the General Assembly votes on important questions, a two-thirds majority of those present and voting is required. Examples of important questions include: recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; and, budgetary matters. All other questions are decided by majority vote. Each member country has one vote. Apart from approval of budgetary matters, resolutions are not binding on the members. The Assembly may make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN, except matters of peace and security that are under Security Council consideration.

Conceivably, the one state, one vote power structure could enable states comprising just eight percent of the world population to pass a resolution by a two-thirds vote. However, as no more than recommendations, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which a recommendation by member states constituting just eight percent of the world’s population, would be adhered to by the remaining ninety-two percent of the population, should they object.

Security Council

United Nations Security Council chamber.

The Security Council is charged with maintaining peace and security among countries. While other organs of the United Nations can only make ‘recommendations’ to member governments, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that member governments have agreed to carry out, under the terms of Charter Article 25. The decisions of the Council are known as United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The Security Council is made up of 15 member states, consisting of 5 permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – and 10 non-permanent members, currently Austria, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Japan, Libya, Mexico, Turkey, Uganda, and Vietnam. The five permanent members hold veto power over substantive but not procedural resolutions allowing a permanent member to block adoption but not to block the debate of a resolution unacceptable to it. The ten temporary seats are held for two-year terms with member states voted in by the General Assembly on a regional basis. The presidency of the Security Council is rotated alphabetically each month, and is held by Austria for the month of November 2009.


The United Nations Secretariat
Building at the United Nations
headquarters in New York City.

The United Nations Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, assisted by a staff of international civil servants worldwide. It provides studies, information, and facilities needed by United Nations bodies for their meetings. It also carries out tasks as directed by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the UN Economic and Social Council, and other UN bodies. The United Nations Charter provides that the staff be chosen by application of the "highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity," with due regard for the importance of recruiting on a wide geographical basis.

The Charter provides that the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any authority other than the UN. Each UN member country is enjoined to respect the international character of the Secretariat and not seek to influence its staff. The Secretary-General alone is responsible for staff selection.

The Secretary-General’s duties include helping resolve international disputes, administering peacekeeping operations, organizing international conferences, gathering information on the implementation of Security Council decisions, and consulting with member governments regarding various initiatives. Key Secretariat offices in this area include the Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter that, in his or her opinion, may threaten international peace and security.


Flag_of_the_United_Nations.svg Proposed logo for a United
Nations Parliamentary Assembly,
which would involve direct
election of a country’s
representative by its citizens

Since its founding, there have been many calls for reform of the United Nations, although little consensus on how to do so. Some want the UN to play a greater or more effective role in world affairs, while others want its role reduced to humanitarian work. There have also been numerous calls for the UN Security Council’s membership to be increased, for different ways of electing the UN’s Secretary-General, and for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.

The UN has also been accused of bureaucratic inefficiency and waste. During the 1990s the United States withheld dues citing inefficiency, and only started repayment on the condition that a major reforms initiative was introduced. In 1994, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was established by the General Assembly to serve as an efficiency watchdog.

An official reform programme was begun by Kofi Annan in 1997. Reforms mentioned include changing the permanent membership of the Security Council (which currently reflects the power relations of 1945), making the bureaucracy more transparent, accountable and efficient, making the UN more democratic, and imposing an international tariff on arms manufacturers worldwide.

In September 2005, the UN convened a World Summit that brought together the heads of most member states, calling the summit "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take bold decisions in the areas of development, security, human rights and reform of the United Nations." Kofi Annan had proposed that the summit agree on a global "grand bargain" to reform the UN, renewing the organization’s focus on peace, security, human rights and development, and to make it better equipped at facing 21st century issues.

The result of the summit was a compromise text agreed on by world leaders, which included the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission to help countries emerging from conflict, a Human Rights Council, and a democracy fund, a clear and unambiguous condemnation of terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations", and agreements to devote more resources to the Office of Internal Oversight Services, to spend billions more on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, to wind up the Trusteeship Council because of the completion of its mission, and that the international community has a "responsibility to protect" – the duty to intervene in when national governments fail to fulfill their responsibility to protect their citizens from atrocious crimes.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

The United Nations that can be found at…

by Gerald Boerner


“Entitle us to the Liberty of proving the Truth of the Papers, which in the Information are called false, malicious, seditious and scandalous.”
Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger

“No nation ancient or modern ever lost the liberty of freely speaking, writing, or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves.”
— John Peter Zenger

“The loss of liberty in general would soon follow the suppression of the liberty of the press; for it is an essential branch of liberty, so perhaps it is the best preservative of the whole.”
— John Peter Zenger

“The trial of Zenger in 1735 was the germ of American freedom, the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America.”
— Gouverneur Morris

“For let the laws be never so much overborne by some one individual’s power, let the spirit of freedom be never so intimidated, still sooner or later they assert themselves”
De officiis 2.24

“The question before the court and you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is not of small nor private concern…No! It may in its consequences affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause of liberty…”
— Andrew Hamilton, Defense Attorney

“…jury’s knowing and deliberate rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law wither because the jury wants to send a message about some social issue that is larger than the case itself or because the result dictated by law is contrary to the jury’s sense of justice, morality, or fairness.”
— Andrew Hamilton, Defense Attorney

The Power of the Press: John Peter Zenger

Zenger Trial 2 John Peter Zenger was a German-born American printer, publisher, editor, and journalist in New York City. He was defendant in a landmark legal case in American jurisprudence that determined that truth was defense against charges of libel.

Facts of the case

John Peter Zenger owned the second newspaper in New York City,”The New York Weekly Journal”. He printed another man’s document that criticized William Cosby, the Governor of New York. Zenger was listed as the printer, but the inspiring voice came from lawyer and mathematician James Alexander, who anonymously printed his assaults on Governor Cosby every Monday. Cosby, angered by the criticism, first asked the Assembly’s permission to have a public burning of the New York Weekly Journal. When they refused, Cosby had Zenger arrested on a charge of seditious libel. Zenger claimed in his “apology” for missing an issue, that even though he was in jail without supplies, he could still publish by speaking through a hole in the door with the help of his wife and servants. It is unclear just how seriously Zenger personally took the material published in the Weekly Journal.

It was almost certainly financed by one of the opposition factions in New York politics, possibly by James Alexander, who along with William Smith was disbarred for objecting to the two-man court that Cosby hand-picked. Zenger was most likely a convenient target to use in an attempt to end criticism. His defense attorney, Andrew Hamilton, was appointed after Zenger’s disbarred ex-lawyers, James Alexander and William Smith, interested Benjamin Franklin in the case. Franklin was able to persuade Hamilton to accept the challenge. The judge in the case basically gave the jurors an order to ignore whatever slander Hamilton tried to throw at them and deal a guilty verdict to Zenger based on his charge of printing false, scandalous and malicious articles about the Governor.

zenger comics After much battling in the courtroom Hamilton said “The question before the court and you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is not of small nor private concern…No! It may in its consequences affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause of liberty…” Hamilton was successful in convincing the jury that whether words are libelous or not depends on whether or not the reader considers them true. In that case they could not be considered scandalous. While at the time of his arrest, he technically was guilty of seditious libel according to the law. However, Hamilton was able to persuade the jury to take part in jury nullification. This essentially is a “jury’s knowing and deliberate rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law wither because the jury wants to send a message about some social issue that is larger than the case itself or because the result dictated by law is contrary to the jury’s sense of justice, morality, or fairness.” His success resulted in the addition of the expression “Philadelphia lawyer” to the language with its original denotation of competence.

Legality of the criminal laws

James_Alexander_New_York_lawyer James Alexander, one of Zenger’s
attorneys, who was disbarred by
the justices presiding over
Zenger’s trial

A notable aspect of the case is that Hamilton challenged the legality of the crimes for which his client was being prosecuted. It was one of the first times in American history in which a lawyer challenged the laws rather than claiming the innocence of his clients. The jurors were stunned and didn’t know how to, or even if they were allowed to, address whether the law itself was “legal.”


At the end of the trial on August 5, 1735, the twelve New York jurors returned a verdict of “not guilty” on the charge of publishing “seditious libels,” even though judges who were hand-picked by the governor were presiding. Hamilton had successfully argued that Zenger’s articles were not libelous because even if they were slanderous in use, all statements were based on fact. Zenger published a verbatim account of the trial as A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger (1736). “No nation, ancient or modern, ever lost the liberty of speaking freely, writing, or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves” stated Zenger.


Zenger Trial Hamilton had served for free. In gratitude for what he had done, the Common Council of New York City awarded him the freedom of that city, and a group of prominent residents contributed to the production of a 5½-ounce gold box that was presented to him as a lasting mark of their gratitude. On the lid of the box the city’s arms were engraved, encircled with the words “Demersae leges — timefacta libertas — haec tandem emergunt” (extracted from Cicero’s “Quamvis enim sint demersae leges alicuius opibus, quamvis timefacta libertas, emergunt tamen haec aliquando,” “For let the laws be never so much overborne by some one individual’s power, let the spirit of freedom be never so intimidated, still sooner or later they assert themselves” [De officiis 2.24]); on the inside were the inscriptions “Non nummis, virtute paratur” (“Acquired not by money but by virtue”) and “Ita cuique eveniat ut de republica meruit” (“Thus let each receive what he has deserved of the republic,” an altered quote from Cicero’s Second Philippic, where it reads “…ut de republica quisque mereatur”).

The box was preserved as a family heirloom for many years, and it is now in the custody of the Atwater Kent Museum near Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Each year the Philadelphia Bar Association presents a replica of the box to the outgoing Chancellor of the Association.

Other Events on this Day
  • In 1734…
    John Peter Zenger is arrested for criticizing Governor William Cosby in his New York Weekly Journal
  • In 1800…
    Congress convenes for the first time in Washington, D.C., in the partially completed Capitol building.
  • In 1881…
    In Pittsburgh, Samuel Gompers helps found the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, forerunner of the American Federation of Labor.
  • In 1973…
    In Orlando, President Richard Nixon famously declares that “people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook”.

Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

John Peter Zenger that can be found at…