Colonel William Cosby

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Governor Cosby

When the next governor died after a term of a few months, Rip Van Dam, the oldest member of the council, took the office of acting governor until the arrival of Colonel William Cosby, in 1732, a year memorable for the birth of George Washington. As Cornbury stands in contrast with Bellomont, so Cosby is odious in comparison with the high minded Burnet. When allowed to have his own way, Cosby exercised his tyranny with offensive overbearance; when thwarted by the assembly, he bowed servilely before them. He at once sued the popular leader, Rip Van Dam, and tried to force him to give up half of the salary of the year when he acted as governor. He deposed Lewis Morris from the office of chief justice; he quarreled with William Smith, the principal lawyer of the colony. He had cunningly induced the assembley to vote taxes for five years and so placed himself partly beyond the reach of public displeasure, except as it might be talked in the tavern or published in the newspaper.

The First Printer

The press was then a new force in securing the popular rights of New York. Forty years before and two years after the death of Leisler, Governor Fletcher, feeling the need of printed laws and other legal papers, persuaded one William Bradford, a printer of Philadelphia, to bring to New York his rude printing press. He took this first machine of its kind into the province and for 50 years did the public printing*. In 1725 he began the first newspaper, the New York Gazette, a weekly paper about the size of a sheet of foolscap.

* One day a boy of 17, a runaway apprentice from Boston, came to his office. Bradford did not have work for another hand and so directed the young man to his son, a printer in Philadelphia. By this chance, Pennsylvania and not New York became the home of statesman and scientist, Benjamin Franklin.

Zenger and His Arrest

Naturally the paper of the public printer supported the governor; and quite naturally too an opposition paper was started; it was conducted by Peter Zenger, a former workman of Bradford. His paper the, New York Weekly Journal, was filled with criticisms and jingling rhymes aimed at the hated governor. Cosby fumed at the hard hits given him and arrested Zenger for libel. The publisher then edited the paper in his cell and sent for William Smith and another lawyer to defend him. The governor thereupon caused these lawyers to be deprived of the rights of attorneys. Zenger's next move was to engage Andrew Hamilton, a lawyer of Philadelphia, one of the ablest advocates in America. The case rapidly became famous. In the city a society of men, among whom were William Smith, William Livington and John Morrin Scott, was formed under the name of "Son's of Liberty" and in other colonies the inhabitants were intently watching the result.

The Trial

Hamilton in opening his client's case made it plainly the cause of the whole people, declaring to the jury that they were to decide the question of freedom of speech and of the press against the will of a dictator. The judge, the tool of Cosby, charged the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty. Their verdict was, not guilty. Amis uncontrollable applause Hamilton was borne from the room, given a banquet and placed on the barge for Philadelphia with firing of cannon. It was a great victory for New York and her sister colonies. Thereby the press became free and continued to be a most important aid in securing the rights of Americans until men laid down the pen to put an end to the contest with the sword.

Change of Governor

The trial of Zenger was in 1735; Cosby died the next year, after providing that Rip Van Dam should not act as governor during the usual interval preceding the appointment of a chief officer. By this arrangement, George Clarke, a favorite of the aristocracy, became the acting governor, and, by representing to the powers across the ocean that the place was ill-paid and beset with troubles, he kept charge of the government for seven years.

(Continues .... A Declaration of Independence)