Pages 156-170


Home    Excerpts


INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 156-170





A superlative monster arises



Considering the high cost of paper and ink in colonial America, Peter Zenger’s weekly was understandably miniature by modern standards. It consisted of a single 12-by-15-inch folio sheet folded in half and printed on both sides to produce a compact journal of four pages, each twelve inches high and 7.5 inches wide. Typographically it was somewhat more attractive and legible than the rival Gazette. Much of its text, running about 700 words per double-column page, was set in larger type with wider spacing between lines, giving it a less clogged look than Bradford’s established paper.

Aesthetically, though, the newcomer was not much to look at. There was no display type to break up the grayness of the pages; there were no woodcuts or other illustrations, and no headings except two on the inside pages after the front-page leader, reading “Foreign Affairs” and “Domestic Affairs.” The items beneath each, announced only by the place and date of origin, were filched and condensed from British or other American journals and had been written three or four months earlier. The type showed wear and tear, words set in italics took effort to decipher, grammar and punctuation were erratic, though proofreading was better than might have been expected from a shop with only a few hands to get out a weekly edition and tend to other jobs as well. Its prose, fussier than the Gazette’s, was intended to convey the elevated literary style common to English periodicals of the age. It cost three pence per copy or three shillings for thirteen issues, allowing subscribers a premium of one free issue quarterly. Advertisements, all-type only and resembling modern classifieds, cost three shillings (about $40 in early-twenty-first century currency) for the first insertion and one shilling each time it ran thereafter (but the rates as listed in each issue did not indicate how many lines the advertiser was allowed for that price).






INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 156-170



The top line of Zenger’s proud new logotype contained only one word—”the” set in small capital letters—and just below it, in far larger type, “New-York Weekly JOURNAL,” and directly underneath, in elegant italics set off by top and bottom hairline rules, “Containing the freshest advices, Foreign, and Domestic.” Then came the day and date of publication, which in its debut issue was sadly off by one month; it read “October 5, 1733” instead of November 5.

The page-one leader did not exactly make amends. The first line read “Mr Zenger,” in keeping with the convention of the time, suggesting that what came next, like the rest of its original articles, had been submitted to the printer for inclusion at his discretion rather than written or solicited by him or an editor. The Journal’s initial offering was a turgid homiletic awash in moral and philosophical meandering, which urged readers to find in wisdom the consolation for all life’s miseries and the surest way to cheat death. It ended with a painstakingly filigreed poem (much in vogue in that day) made still more unreadable by its tiny type. Page 2 offered items from Vienna about troop movements across Germany, a digest of sermons given in London and elsewhere in England, urging parishioners to help needy and persecuted souls resettle in the new American colony of Georgia, and an excerpt from a letter by the current Holy Roman Emperor to the Chief Bishop of Poland (likely of limited interest to mostly Protestants readers 5,000 or so miles away in the New World). But then at the bottom of the right-hand column of the second page, under the dateline “Westchester Oct 29, 1733” and consuming most of the rest of the issue, appeared something entirely unexpected—a truly fresh, lively news account of a major political event that modern journalists would recognize as creditable reportage. It also strongly suggested that Governor Cosby and his allies were gross abusers of democracy.

The succinct lead paragraph read: “On this day, the late Chief Justice of this Province, was by a great majority of voices, elected a Representative for the County of Westchester.” It failed to include “to the General Assembly of New York” after “Representative,” presumably because the writer did not wish to insult his readers’ intelligence. The second graph, though, enticingly asserted that the vote had aroused “great expectation” since the contending parties had “exerted [themselves] (it is said) to the utmost.” Then: “I shall give my readers a particular account of it, as I had it from a person that was present”—the “I” almost certainly being James Alexander, who, the article mentions, was on hand. Here was another innovation: an eye-witness narrative of an occurrence just a week earlier, enriched by graphic details but free of editorializing, letting the facts indict the Cosbyites—the purpose for which the Journal was created.






INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 156-170



The account began by noting that Westchester’s sheriff, Nicholas Cooper, the governor’s appointee, like all sheriffs and county officials (though the paper didn’t think it necessary to point that out), had posted notice at the local church and other public places of the day and site of the polling, Monday, October 29, on the Eastchester village green. But the posters failed to specify the time of balloting, “which made the electors on the side of the late judge [Lewis Morris] very suspicious that some fraud was intended,” the paper reported. To alert Morris’s backers in case the pro-Cosby voters suddenly appeared with the connivance of the sheriff, a vanguard of fifty Morrisites camped out on or stayed in homes near the green from midnight till sunrise while the main body of Morris supporters was assembling at nearby New Rochelle and feasting (also doubtless drinking heartily, though the article didn’t say) to sustain them through the night.

At sunrise the Morrisite cavalcade streamed onto the green, led by two trumpeters, three violinists, and four “of the principal freeholders,” bearing a gold-lettered banner that on one side read “KING GEORGE” in caps and on the other “LIBERTY & LAW,” the People’s Party motto. They were followed by candidate Morris himself at the head of two columns comprised of some 300 mounted freeholders, who were bona fide voters and said by the writer to be “a greater number than had ever appeared for one man since the settlement of the county.” They made three circuits of the green, then retired to nearby homes for refreshment and to await the opposition.

At 11 A.M., Morris’s foe, William Foster, appeared on the scene. The Journal identified him as a schoolmaster lately appointed by “his Excellency (the present Governor), clerk of the Peace and Common Pleas [court] in the county, which commission, it is said, he purchased for the valuable consideration of one hundred pistol[e]s” (roughly equivalent to $23,000 in 2014 currency, according to the leading authority on colonial currency). The public may have been aware that official positions were purchasable for the right price—very considerable, in this case—and thus been inured to what righteous moderns view as venal patronage peddling. Still, seeing the practice spelled out in so baldly revealing a manner must have startled many of the paper’s readers. No source was cited for this intelligence, possibly because such transactions were common knowledge, and, in Foster’s case, the report was probably both accurate and little cause for embarrassment, or else he might have sued the paper for libel. Even so, the Journal’s frank exposé of the going price for court clerkships qualified as its first public service.

Foster headed a group of 170 or so of his mounted supporters, trailed by Supreme Court Chief Justice James DeLancey and his colleague Frederick Phillipse, identified by the paper as “second judge of the province,” who paraded twice around the green, calling out “No Land Tax,” the motto of their well-heeled ranks. As he rode past, Justice Philipse “very civilly saluted the late chief justice by taking off his hat, which the late judge returned in the same manner”—and likely in good spirits because his side seemed to widely outnumber his opponent’s. The congeniality soon ended as some Morrisites began to heckle Foster as a Jacobite supporter of the British crown pretender, which spurred Foster to yell back, “I will take notice of you.”






INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 600-603



The encounter grew more heated when Sheriff Cooper arrived around noon, resplendent in a ceremonial scarlet uniform with silver detailing, read out the royal authorization of the election, and directed the voters onto the green, where they were to assemble grouped by their choice of the two candidates. According to the write-up, “a great majority appeared for Mr Morris . . . upon which a poll was demanded, but by whom is not known to the relator [reporter], though it was said by many to be done by the sheriff himself.” Morris promptly challenged the sheriff’s order, asking several times “upon whose side the majority appeared, but could get no other reply but that a poll must be had.” A two-hour delay ensued while benches, chairs, tablets, pen and paper were found for recording the votes to be cast aloud one by one.

Soon after the polling started, the anticipated Cosbyites’ ploy was revealed. As the first of thirty-eight Quakers among the voters, all thought to be solidly behind Morris as a long-standing ally of their sect’s rights, was called to state his choice, two of the sheriff’s hand-picked inspectors intervened. Although the Journal described the Quaker as “a man of known worth and estate,” the inspectors questioned whether he actually owned enough land to qualify as a voter. They directed the sheriff to make the man swear an oath “in due form of law” on the Bible, attesting to his status as a landowner, an act that would have forced him to violate the well known Quaker prohibition against sworn vows. This “he refused to do, but offered to take his solemn affirmation, which both by the laws of England and the laws of this province was indulged to the. . . Quakers and had always been practiced since the first election of representatives in this province to this time and never refused. But the sheriff was deaf to all that could be alleged.” Despite being told by ex–Chief Justice Morris and his principal aides, Provincial Councilman Alexander and prominent attorney William Smith, that “such a procedure was contrary to law and a violent attempt [on] the liberty of the people,” the sheriff denied the Quaker the vote as well as his thirty-seven coreligionists, “men of known and visible estates.” Morris’s legal team could have appealed to DeLancey and Philips, the province’s two highest-ranking judges, who were on hand and might have told the sheriff he was acting unlawfully. The pair of justices, however, were well known to be ill disposed toward Morris by long family enmity and beholden to Cosby for their recently elevated judicial rank, and so were unlikely to have intervened even if appealed to. The Journal dared not speculate in that fashion, but it did note, by way of implying the stratagem had been concocted in advance within the governor’s coterie, that Sheriff Cooper was an outsider who owned no land in the county. Soon harsh words were flying in sympathy with the persecuted Quakers as well as repeated claims that Foster was disloyal to the king. None of the outcries mattered; by 11 P.M., when all the individual voice votes had finally been recorded, Morris prevailed by 231 to 151. If the thirty-eight Quakers had not been barred, Morris would have garnered nearly two-thirds of the vote.

Sheriff Cooper, his bludgeoning tactic having proven futile, wished the winner “much joy,” while the loser said he hoped Morris “would not think the worse of him for setting up against him.” Morris, rarely gracious to those he vanquished, replied that though he believed Foster was “put upon it against his inclinations,” he was nonetheless culpable for the sheriff “making so violent an attempt upon the liberty of the people,” and it would serve him right if the “people aggrieved” [i.e., the disenfranchised Quakers] sued him for £10,000, though he wouldn’t urge them to. His supporters let out a triumphant “Huzzah,” according to the Journal, as Morris reclaimed his status as local hero, but his victory went well beyond that. When he landed at the ferry dock in New York Harbor at 5 P.M. two afternoons later, “he was saluted by a general fire of the guns from the. . . vessels lying in the roads and was received by great numbers of the most considerable merchants and inhabitants of this city, and by them with loud acclamations of the people as he walked the streets, conducted to the Black Horse Tavern, where a handsome entertainment was prepared for him.” Lewis Morris was back as a power player in the province’s political maelstrom and now possessed a potent new means for attracting the public’s support.






INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 156-170





Probably because James Alexander was consumed with his legal practice and preparing most, if not all, of the Journal’s contents, so he could spare no time for further eyewitness reporting, the paper never again ran so vivid and engaging a narrative as its account of the Westchester election. Its original articles, more literary and nuanced and thus less comprehensible, were filled with oblique references and sly innuendos that almost never named their targets.

Alexander devoted the first two pages of the second and third issues to a condensed rendering of several of Trenchard and Gordon’s “Cato’s Letters,” which had begun appearing in London a dozen years earlier, dwelling especially on elegiac passages in praise of press freedom. Alexander was said to be so struck by these essays that he copied them down word for word in order to render them more persuasively, by selected quotation and faithful paraphrase, as lessons to the Journal’s readers. Here were the precepts the paper aimed to live by—and to use, though it was legally constricted from saying so, in order to bring down the despot in the governor’s quarters. The first words of issue No. 2 were “The liberty of the press is a subject of the greatest importance, and in which every individual is as much concerned as he is in any other part of liberty.” This was a novel idea to most readers, who had never been presented with critical allusions to their rulers. The essay went on: “No nation ancient or modern ever lost the liberty of free speaking, writing, and publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves.” The free press was “a curb, a bridle. . . and a restraint on evil ministers” who ought to suffer “the lash of satire,” and “the glaring truths” of their abuses ought to be shown to awaken their consciences, if any, “and render [their] actions odious to all honest minds.”

But “Cato,” as edited by Alexander, was not so wide-eyed in pressing his case that he failed to concede that some honest men were defamed by an unrestrained press. Even so, no worthy man would wind up hurt by printed calumnies, because his virtue would prevail and convince readers of the truth. Nor was Alexander an adherent of absolute press freedom, writing “abuses that dissolve society and sap the foundation of government are not to be sheltered under the umbrage of the liberty of the press” and that publications were not exempt from common-law holdings on the criminality, and thus punishability, of seditious libels. But Alexander, wearing “Cato’s” mantle, insisted it was not up to governments or judges but juries of the people to decide when defamatory language was justifiable and whether its authors and publishers could be branded as enemies of society for performing an imperative public service.






INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 156-170



The rest of issues Nos. 2 and 3 was given over to a list of ship arrivals and departures and a buffet of foreign news tidbits including results of parliamentary contests in Britain. Notably absent—and they would remain so—were fleshed-out reports of local occurrences and news from other colonies. There were two reasons for this omission, glaring in the eyes of a modern reader. First, the Journal had no role model; other American papers, like the New-York Gazette, Andrew Bradford’s American Mercury, and Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, were far from enterprising when it came to chronicling local events; objective reportage was in its fetal phase. Second, writing up hometown or provincial news could be risky; governments in colonies other than New York were no more tolerant of what might be taken for printed criticism and their legislatures no less avid in defense of “parliamentary privilege,” forbidding press reports of their proceedings. The Journal, in readying its aim at the colonial authorities, had plunged into the cold stream of history and was swimming against the current.

Its fourth issue was tedious going, with an off-putting leader addressed to “Mr Zenger” from one “Philo-Patriae” (Lover of the Country), who wrote that since supreme rulers were charged with procuring “the good and safety of the community,” its members should not countenance arbitrary acts of injustice by their administrators. But no malefactors’ names or misdeeds were cited as examples. The rest of the issue consisted of items from Europe of remote concern to American colonists. But for the first time the Journal made use of a literary device—satire—increasingly favored by British wits to chide villainous and fatuous targets while hoping to avoid prosecution for libel. Artfully disguising their defamatory intent, English litterateurs often set their caustic parables, plays, or anecdotes in an earlier time or foreign or mythical place, used historical figures, fictive characters, or anthropomorphic animals to convey lacerating words in a way that could apply to the general human condition rather than real-life people or government officers who might charge the authors with a criminal activity. At times, writers employed initials to identify the butt of their ridicule, as the Journal did in leading off its advertisements in this issue with a bogus plea for the recovery of a lost dog, clearly meant to represent the governor’s pet henchman and fawning publicist, Francis Harison:

A large spaniel of about five foot five inches high has lately strayed from his kennel with his mouth full of fulsome panegyrics and in his ramble dropped them in the NEW YORK GAZETTE. When a puppy he was marked thus (FH) and a cross in the middle of his forehead; but the mark being worn out, he has taken upon him in a heathenish manner to abuse mankind by imposing a great many gross falsehoods on them. Whoever will strip the said panegyrics of their fulsomeness, and send the beast back to his kennel, shall have the thanks of all honest men, and all reasonable charges.

The taunt may have been too arch to turn Cosby’s ardent retainer into the instant laughingstock that the Journal intended, but there could be little doubt in readers’ minds what the paper was up to with the two-page anonymous leader in its next issue on December —a passionate defense of Englishmen’s historic right to a jury trial, “the fortress and bulwark of their lives, liberties, and estates.” Anyone who doubted as much had only to “look abroad in France, Spain, and Italy, and observe the miserable condition of the inhabitants” left to the mercy of often mercenary judges. “Deservedly,” the Journal essay concluded, trial by juries has “ranked amongst the choicest of our fundamental laws, which whosoever shall go about openly to suppress, or craftily to undermine, does ipso facto ATTACK THE GOVERNMENT, AND BRING IN AN ARBITRARY POWER, AND IS AN ENEMY AND A TRAITOR TO HIS COUNTRY [capitals in the original text].” The right to a jury trial had long and often been “remembered by Parliament [as] the only security between the king and his subjects.”






INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 156-170



For a certainty, the article was meant to remind readers just how despotic and unpatriotic their governor had been the previous spring in trying to circumvent the jury system in his suit against Van Dam and by reported threats to use his power as chancellor to nullify disputed land titles (like the one to the Oblong, for example) or, as he had done summarily at Albany with the Mohawk deed to the city magistrates, to destroy them without recourse to a court of law. Cosby had, arguably, further imperiled the rights of the people by removing, without a stated cause, their staunchest defender of the jury system, Chief Justice Morris. If the Journal’s meaning had been too cryptic, the next issue’s leader began:

Some have said it is not the business of private men to meddle with government. . . but since it is the great design of this paper to maintain and explain the glorious principles of liberty and expose the arts of those who would darken and expose them, I shall here particularly show the wickedness and stupidity of the above saying, which is fit to come from no mouth but that of a tyrant or a slave, and can never be heard by any man of an honest and free soul without horror and indignation. . . . The difference between free and enslaved countries lies here, that in the former their magistrates must consult the voice and interest of the people, but in the latter, the private will, interest, and pleasure of the governors are the sole end and motives of their administration. . . .

But the Journal took care not to mention Cosby by name or cite any of his alleged abuses, just as in its first issue it had not explicitly charged him or his agents with trying to rig the Westchester election against Morris by denying the vote to his Quaker constituents. To report the undeniable facts of that episode was sufficiently bold and suggestive of Cosby’s villainy. The men behind the paper were wily lawyers who were not about to hand their enemy a ready pretext for charging it—and them—with seditious libel; better to act as an irritant than wield a sledgehammer too easily turned against them by waiting prosecutors.

In its fifth issue, though, the paper ventured beyond the safety zone by including an article on its third page (of four) that began with a short report it had lifted, without attribution, from the Gazette. It stated that the French sloop Le Caesar had arrived in New York Harbor the previous week on a mission ordered by the governor of the Canadian fortress at Louisburg on Cape Breton Island at the eastern end of Nova Scotia, purportedly to obtain provisions for the destitute inhabitants of the adjacent fortified town. The ship was permitted to fulfill its assignment by courtesy of Governor Cosby and his council. “They were while here entertained by His Excellency with great hospitality and kindness,” the opening paragraph concluded, as if approving a humane intention on the British government’s part. But then the Journal immediately turned skeptical without—yet—contending that any report in the Gazette on the governor’s conduct was not to be taken at face value. “It’s talk in town,” Zenger’s paper elaborated on the bare-bones item in Bradford’s paper, “that one day in the fort [Fort George] as they were viewing the ramparts, one of [the Caesar’s crewmen] was overheard saying in French that he thought ‘Three ships could take this place.’ But as they were Frenchmen, it’s to be presumed they meant ‘Three ships could take such a French place.’” It was all the Journal’s writer needed to pounce on the governor’s advertised kindheartedness and suggest it might instead have been an act of colossal folly: “As war is now proclaimed by France against Germany, wherein possibly Britain may by treaties and her interest be obliged to join against France, and we border on the French colonies, it were to be wished that all means were without loss of time to be taken to put Albany and this place [New York] in the best posture of defense that’s possible; especially seeing there may be some reason to fear that the spying on our strength was more the Frenchmen’s errand in coming here than to supply their pretended want of provisions; considering that their sailors have frankly owned there was no want of provisions at Cape Breton when they came from thence.” The article wound up suggesting that perhaps the Assembly should be summoned to consult on the matter and speed defensive measures.






INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 156-170



The upstart paper would not let the matter rest there. It undertook some authentic investigative reporting, and in its seventh issue on December 17, 1733—the first of several that would eventually be cited by Cosby’s regime for propagating seditious libel—the lead article challenged as “far from true” the paragraph in the Gazette it had relied on earlier (and now admitted as much) in reporting, even if skeptically, Le Caesar’s visit to New York as a mission of mercy. In doing so, the Journal directly assailed its established rival for the first time, calling it “a paper known to be under the direction of the government” and claiming its printer was not allowed “to insert anything but what his superiors approve of.” Then it presented three affidavits aimed at substantiating how the Gazette’s report had tried to mislead the public.

The first sworn statement was by a twenty-two-year-old Boston seaman whose vessel had been docked at Louisburg two months earlier. During his daily visits to the town, not only did he see no evidence that food and other provisions were in short supply but learned the fort itself was being expanded and strengthened to repel any foreign incursion. Still more condemnatory was the seaman’s further report that, being in New York during Le Caesar’s recent visit, he had learned from crew members that French military officers and engineers were aboard the sloop and that as it navigated through New York Harbor they were busily mapping the shoreline and straits that converged on Manhattan, taking depth soundings of the waters, recording church steeples, flagpoles, and other landmarks of the city, and noting the layout and gunnery at Fort George. An affidavit from a second seaman concurred with the first, and a third deponent testified that on a visit to Montreal not long before, he had been harshly treated by the governor and other French officials solely because he was a British subject—an advisory clearly intended to contrast French hostility to foreign visitors with the clueless courtesy that Cosby’s coterie had bestowed on the captain and crew of Le Caesar. Then to hammer the point home in the immediately following paragraphs, the Journal resorted to artifice, in the form of interrogative rather than declarative (and thus openly accusatory) wording:

It is agreed on all hands that a fool may ask more questions than a wise man can answer, or perhaps will answer if he could; but notwithstanding that, I would be glad to be advised in the following points of speculation that the above affidavits afford. . . .

Q. 1. Is it prudent in the French governors not to suffer an Englishman to view their fortifications, sound their harbors, tarry in their country to discover their strength?

Q. 2. Is it prudent in an English governor to suffer a Frenchman to view our fortifications, sound our harbors, etc.?

Q. 3. If the above affidavits be true, had the French a bad harvest in Canada? Or do they want provisions?. . .

Q. 5. Might not our governor as easily have discovered the falsehood of it as anybody else, if he would?

Q. 6. Ought he not to have endeavored to do it?

Q. 7. Did our governor endeavor to do it?

Q. 8. Was it not known to the greatest part of the town, before the sloop Le Caesar left New York that. . . the French had sounded and taken the landmarks from without Sandy Hook up to New York? Had taken the view of the town? Had been in the fort?. . .

Q. 12. Could we not, by seizing their papers and confining their persons, have prevented them in great measure from mating use of the discoveries they made?. . .

Q. 14. Was it prudent to suffer them to pass through Hellgate, and also to discover that way of access to us?. . .






INDELIBLE INK                                                                      Pages 156-170



Having rhetorically skewered Cosby and his aides for consorting with the enemy while technically only asking questions, the paper followed with a further deft needling of the governor. In a short item, it informed the public—though not in so many words—that he had muted his Provincial Council’s deliberative power of consent by usually summoning only six of its dozen members to meetings, most of them holders of one or more other offices at the governor’s pleasure (their names and offices were listed). “Sundry others of the gentlemen of the council who have no offices nor expect any, live also in town [New York], but few of them have often the honor of being summoned to council,” the Journal said. Of these intentionally excluded members, the article went on, “one. . . it is said, has not been once summoned since November 1732, tho’ it is said he has been in town at the time of every one of the councils”—a reference, of course, to James Alexander, who almost surely wrote the piece himself to vent his frustration. The article concluded: “. . . As five [councilmen] do make a quorum, and when five do meet the majority of them do determine the point in question, it would seem it is thought there’s no need of those (whom we beg leave to call) INOFFICIOUS MEN OF THE COUNCIL, seeing enough of more fit men are to be had.” To readers who could parse the sarcastic elegance of the Journal’s phrasing, it was saying, in effect, without resort to mentioning Cosby’s name, “Your governor has insulated himself with a council of stooges in order to rule this colony despotically.”

While Alexander was peppering the governor with carefully worded public obloquy—notice his use of “it is said” in the item just cited to cloak the charges as an allegation rather than an open accusation—Lewis Morris was mincing no words in a simultaneous private communication with the Board of Trade, describing the Caesar affair, which he wrote “gives much uneasiness to the inhabitants” of New York. But Morris, on a vengeful mission, seemed unfazed over the risk of defaming Cosby far more savagely than the Journal had dared. He wrote in a December 15 letter, “Whether as some suppose she [the sloop Le Caesar] was sent by the French government to sound our harbors and discover our [military] strength, or as others suppose, on a scheme projected by the governor and his brother, a major at Annapolis Royal (who is married to a French lady of that place [a British naval base in Nova Scotia]) to carry on a clandestine trade with the French, ’tis certain that the pretense of a bad harvest at Canada and want of provisions at Louisburg was but a mere sham.” While he cited reports in the affidavits carried by the Journal that the French at Louisburg were not short of supplies and indeed were strengthening their military fortress there—and that far from welcoming British visitors as Cosby did the French crew, “they make prisoners of any Englishmen who come to Canada”—Morris offered no evidence to back the toxic rumor he passed on that the governor and his family were conspiring to trade clandestinely, illegally, and even treasonously with the crown’s mortal foe. To top off his demolition job, Morris claimed to have an affidavit from an officer at Fort George stating that Cosby had been pocketing crown funds allocated for clothing and arming the several hundred soldiers of the New York garrison under his command as well as failing to buy and bestow gifts, as budgeted, for pacifying the native tribes on the frontier “in order to make a vast profit to himself.”

We may reasonably suppose that if Morris, now returned to the colonial Assembly and determined to have Cosby removed from office, had hard evidence to support these grave charges, he would have presented it to both the New York legislature and the Walpole administration. But Morris did neither, likely because as a former jurist he feared his public allegations against Cosby would not withstand legal scrutiny, and so he had to hope his hectoring letters would soon trigger a thorough crown investigation of the governor’s conduct.

While likely unaware of Morris’s ongoing denunciations sent to the Duke of Newcastle as the Board of Trade’s overseer, the governor knew full well who was behind the new paper in town and why it had been started. In a letter to the duke—his wife’s cousin, remember—sent two days before Morris’s latest diatribe to London, Cosby wrote that “I [have] found Alexander to be at the head of a scheme to give all imaginable uneasiness to the government. . . and making the worst impressions on the mind of the people. A press supported by him and his party [has begun] to swarm with the most virulent libels.” He knew as well that Alexander’s chief collaborator was Lewis Morris, “whose open and implacable malice against me has appeared weekly in false and scandalous libels printed in Zenger’s Journal.” Morris’s aim, he added, was to prejudice the minds of “a deluded and unreasonable mob.” Yet for all his fulminating, Cosby said he would not be lured, as he put it, into “a paper war” or defending his conduct and the authority of the crown in a courtroom.

But Alexander and Morris were just warming up, and their newspaper was catching on with New Yorkers, who had begun to appreciate the adroitness of the Journal’s jabs at the governor. The paper was selling out, and some weeks Zenger went back to press to print extra copies.




Home    Excerpts