James Delancey was born into the English aristocracy on November 27, 1703. He presided over the 1733 libel suit brought by Governor William Cosby against journalist Peter Zenger. This case is a major landmark in establishing freedom of the press in America.
Delancey was educated at Cambridge and trained in law. He arrived in colonial Manhattan in 1729. Prior to being named Chief Justice by Royal Governor William Cosby, he served on the Governor's Council and as second judge of the colony's Supreme Court.
Eighteenth century American colonists demanded increased freedom while proponents of royal rule desperately sought to maintain power in the face of rising opposition and democracy. Delancey and Cosby staunchly supported the English Crown and the concept of royal privilege. Many colonial New Yorkers were individualistic entrepreneurs seeking financial success and independence and did not quietly defer to what they viewed as antiquated claims of royal privilege.