The press asserts its freedom
In the south, planters depended very largely on books for their contact with the world of cultivation. Books from England on all subjects-history, Greek and Latin classics, science, and law-were exchanged from plantation to plantation. In Charleston, South Carolina, a provincial library was established in 1700. Music, painting, and the theater, too, found favor there. Indeed, actors long regarded Charleston with special affection, for they were certain of a more cordial welcome there than in other colonial cities.
In New England, the first immigrants brought along their little libraries and continued to import books from London. The Puritans, to be sure, had an inordinate appetite for religious writings, but they did not confine their reading to such works. By the 1680's, Boston booksellers were doing a thriving business in works of classical literature, history, polities, philosophy, science, sermons, theology, and belles-lettres.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, early boasted a printing press, and in 1704, Boston's first successful newspaper was launched. Several others soon entered the field, not only in New England but in other regions. In New York, for instance, there occurred one of the most important events in the development of the American press. This was the case of Peter Zenger, whose New York Weekly Journal, begun in 1733, was the mouthpiece of opposition to the government. When, after two years of publication, the colonial governor could tolerate Zenger's satirical barbs no longer, he had him thrown into prison on a charge of libel. Zenger edited his paper from jail during the nine-month trial which. excited intense interest throughout the colonies. Andrew Hamilton, a great lawyer, defended him, arguing that the charges printed by Zenger were true and hence not libelous in the real sense of the term. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and Zenger went free. The consequences were farreaching, not only for colonial America, but for the America of the future. The decision was a landmark in the establishment of the principle of freedom of the press.
Literary production in the colonies was largely confined to New England. Here attention was concentrated principally on religious subjects. Sermons were the most numerous products of the press. A famous "hell and brimstone" minister, the Reverend Cotton Mather, was, alone the author of about 400 works, and his masterpiece, Magnalia Cristi Americana, was so large a work that it had to be printed in London. In this folio, the pageant of New England's history is displayed as it appeared to the prejudiced eyes of its most prolific and pedantic writer. The most popular single work was the Reverend Michael Wigglesworth's long poem, The Day of Doom, which described the Last Judgment in terrifying and sulphurous terms. Everybody read it and everybody owned a copy of the fearful epic.