Also last Friday, Caroline and I wandered over to Federal Hall, which is the site where George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States. By site, I mean that this is NOT the building. The building, the one that was City Hall and then became Federal Hall, where Washington was actually sworn in, was torn down in 1812.
Basically, you have a really cool-looking building housing a museum to several things: Washington and the embryonic federal government; the Peter Zenger trial; and the building as a customs house and sub-treasury. Of course my interest was on Washington and Zenger.
The Bill of Rights was also written in Federal Hall. All the branches of government met in this building until the capital was moved to Philadelphia in 1790.
The Peter Zenger trial is probably one of the most interesting–and relevant–court cases in American history. It deals with freedom of the press.
Peter Zenger was a German immigrant who was a printer and publisher. He published the New-York Daily Journal, a newspaper which was critical of the policies of then-governor William Crosby. Zenger was so successful that Crosby had him arrested in 1734 on a charge of seditious libel. He was held in the City Hall jail for eight months before his trial.
Lawyer Andrew Hamilton (no relation to Alexander) rode up from Philadelphia to defend Zenger. Zenger’s wife continued to turn out the Daily Journal–and successfully reminded New Yorkers that her husband was still in prison. The royal judges were hostile to Hamilton, so he presented his case to the jury. Basically, Hamilton argued that if something were true, it could not be libelous. The royal judges urged finding Zenger guilty. The jury acquitted Zenger, and he was set free.
One of those judges was Frederick Philipse, the great-grandson of Frederick Philipse and Margaret Hardenbroeck, two people who built a vast trading empire and the vast land holdings above Manhattan that became known as Philipsburg Manor. Popular opinion criticized the judges. This was a wake-up call for the Philipses, but they did not heed the warning.
Federal Hall was pretty busy, but the exhibits weren’t packed, and most people were scattered all over the building. It really is a lovely, marble building, with a grand entrance hall. I could see the Greco-Roman decorations here and there. As I commented to Caroline, I could comfortably live in such a building–not that it’s ever going to happen.