The Conflict

August 1839 in New York along the coast of Long Island, a Spanish ship called La Amistad made landfall and would initiate a heated debate in the United States judicial courts. On board, there were 53 Africans and two Spaniards. The two Spaniards had illegally kidnapped the Africans from West Africa. They first sailed to Cuba, and then sailed north where they would sell the Africans into slavery. The 53 Africans had mutinied and were attempting to have the two Spaniards sail them back home to Cuba. In the meantime, the United States ship, Washington, found La Amistad out at sea amidst this discrepancy. The Americans helped to allow the Spaniards to have control of their vessel once again and detained the 53 Africans in the state of Connecticut.

picture of the ship la amistad
picture of the ship la amistad

The Case

From this conflict the lawsuit. The state of Connecticut arrested the two Spanish traders for enslaving free Africans. The foreign minister of Spain ordered for La Amistad and all of its cargo to be released, and for the slaves to be sent back to Cuba under Spanish authority, where they would be punished. This angered many anti-slavery supporters in America and fortunately, a large group of abolitionists came forth and helped to bring the case to a federal trial court located in New Haven, Connecticut, where they would decide if the Africans should be freed. In 1840, the court declared the slaves "free blacks", due to another unrelated, illegal transport across the Atlantic. This defied the Constitutional law that stated the transport of slaves was unconstitutional and prohibited (the international slave trade had been illegal in the United States since 1808). A year later the case was brought to the Supreme Court, where former President John Quincy Adams fought to win the Africans' their freedom. The Court voted in favor of the Africans. Thirty-five of the slaves were sent back to their homeland of Africa, but unfortunately, the others died either at sea or while awaiting their release before getting a chance for freedom.

The Amistad Case not only influenced more anti-slavery and abolitionist groups to step forward and take action, it also led abolitionists to create "personal liberty laws" (after the Court case Prigg v. Pennsylvania in 1842). These "laws" prohibited any and all state officials in attempting to capture and/or return runaway slaves. The abolitionist groups tried greatly to end slavery in the U.S. but were unsuccessful due to the limitations of the groups themselves, as well as the power of Congress in individual states.

external image amistad.gif
Also, if anyone is interested in learning more about the Amistad Case, there is an Oscar-nominated movie available titled Amistad directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Morgan Freeman and Matthew McConaughey.

Movie info: