President: Martin Van Buren



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  • Amistad
  • Background
  • Economy: 2nd US National Bank closed by President Jackson. Economy very tenuous.
  • 2 million African Slaves in the U.S.
  • 300,000 freed African slaves
  • More Background:
  • Missouri Compromise of 1820:
  • Admitted Missouri as a slave state but said that any new state admitted above the northern border of Missouri would be admitted as a free state . 36-30 line.
  • A state has the right to refuse to carryout a federal law. Jackson enforced federal laws.
  • Theory of Nullification Act ( John C. Calhoun)
  • President Van Buren feels the pressure of the South’s possible succession…….
  • If you were kidnapped and placed on a ship not knowing where you were going or what was going to happen to you, would you fight for your freedom even if it meant killing your captors?
  • This is what Cinque did and how the story begins……
  • The Incident:
  • In January 1839, Cinque, a Mende, is seized and sold into slavery in the interior of West Africa.
  • Early April: Cinque is loaded on the slave ship Tecora off Lomboko, on the West African coast of Sierra Leone.
  • After a 3 month middle passage across the Atlantic, the Africans are brought to the barracoons in Havanna and sold to Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez, Spanish planters from Puerto Principe. They purchase a total of 49 adult males and 4 children (3 are girls).
  • June 8 : Ruiz and Montez load the Africans onto the Amistad.
  • July 1: On their third night out Cinque and his friend Grabiau free and arm themselves and the others
  • July 2: Africans Revolt
  • Background 2:
  • During the 1800’s, European countries have vast empires. These empires not only stretch into the Americas and Caribbean Islands but also into Africa.
  • Great Britain was particularly vigorous at enforcing these treaties. Sierra Leone was a British protectorate.
  • Aug. 26th : USS Washington seizes schooner and escorts it to New London.
  • US Federal District Judge Andrew T. Judson is notified.
  • Judson sends the matter to the U.S. Circuit court in Hartford, Connecticut. Africans are taken to jail in New Haven.
  • Sept. 6 Spanish minister in Washington demand that the Africans be returned to Cuba to stand trial for mutiny and murder.
  • Sept. 9: With the help of abolitionist Lewis Tappan, Yale professor Josiah Gibbs finds Mende translators on the docks of New York –James Covey and Charles Pratt– and takes them to New Haven to interview the Africans. Money is also raised for the Africans defense fund.
  • The Trials
  • US Circuit Court Judge Thompson expresses doubt to the legality of the African’s enslavement, but decides to keep Africans in custody.
  • Federal District court: (Judge Judson presiding) Attorney Roger Baldwin tries to get the case dismissed on grounds that the “salvage” should have been taken to New York and introduces evidence that the Africans were not legally enslaved.
  • Spain puts in a claim for the Africans
  • Court awards salvage to two Spaniards. It also rules that the Africans were illegally enslaved. Murder and piracy issues were left to Spanish rule , but since Africans wrere taken illegally the issue was null and void.
  • Van Buren orders and immediate appeal to the Circuit Court.
  • Circuit Court affirms District Court decision and sends issue to the Supreme Court.
  • John Quincy Adams and Roger Baldwin argue Africans’ case in the Supreme Court
  • Supreme Court rules in favor of the Africans and orders them to be returned home to Africa.

Senior Justice Joseph Story said, ". . . it was the ultimate right of all human beings in extreme cases to resist oppression, and to apply force against ruinous injustice," the opinion in this case more narrowly asserted the Africans right to resist "unlawful" slavery.

  • Cinque and other Africans return home with the help of some new friends from the Church of Christ and set up a missionary in Sierra Leone.
  • Homework:
  • Divide into groups of four and answer the following questions. Submit group answers at the end of class and designate a discussion leader.
  • Questions to ponder:
  • If the Amistad had been captured in any other state in the U.S. do you think the outcome might have been different? What if it had been captured in a southern state?
  • Give two reasons why President Van Buren interferred with the outcome of this case.
  • List two positive residual effects of this case.
  • Extra Credit: Prepare a 2 page essay discussing your thoughts on the significance of this court case in regards to being a precursor to the Civil War. ( worth 1% point added at the end of nine weeks)


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