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Amistad - Essay Example

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Summary
In 1839, at the time of the Amistad, slavery was legal in selected US states, and geographically limited according to federal law. However, the slave trade and the importation of slaves had been outlawed in the United States since 1817. Slavery was still widespread, especially in the South and dictated economics…
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Download file to see previous pages The Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico would continue to tolerate the outlawed slave trade until the 1860s, but eventually outlaw slavery by the end of the 1870s2.
By the time of the Amistad incident, the feeling in America towards slavery had polarized. Feelings ran the gamut from the abolitionists that called for an immediate ban on slavery, to the people that felt a constitutional amendment was long overdue, and included the advocates that argued slavery was a states' issue and wished to prolong the practice, primarily in the rural South for economic reasons. In the Northern States, "the rising voices of black, as well as white, abolitionists are partly responsible for ending slavery in the Northern states during the first part of the nineteenth century"3. According to Jackson, "if many were sympathetic to the Africans, there were plenty of others among the American press and public with only contempt for them", and Cinque, the leader of the mutineers, was described by one journalist to be "as miserably ignorant and brutalized a creature as the rest"4. Many people such as "Lewis Tapan, a prominent New York businessman, Joshua Leavitt, a lawyer and journalist who edited the Emancipator in New York, and Simeon Jocelyn, a Congregational" could sense the coming of the civil war over this unresolvable issue and "decided to publicize the incident to expose the brutalities of slavery and the slave trade"5. In 1839, the nation was deeply divided over the slavery issue and many people were willing to take a hard stance either for or against it.
C. Legal aspects of the Supreme Court's decision.
Though there was significant political and emotional pressure placed on the court, the eventual decision was a correct legal finding. The case rested on three principles; jurisdiction, the mutineer's status as slaves, and the concept of slaves as property. "The Spanish minister pointed out that the Amistad mutiny took place on a Cuban vessel traveling between Cuban ports and was thus beyond the jurisdiction of American courts"6. The court ruled that the mutineers were "kidnapped and free Negroes, the treaty with Spain cannot be obligatory upon them; and the United States are bound to respect their rights as much as those of Spanish subjects"7. The court rightfully found that they had been kidnapped, since they had been taken in violation of international agreements, and since they were being held as kidnapped captives, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision. "The court declared that the blacks had never been lawful slaves and that they were kidnapped and illegally transported to Cuba. Their mutiny was an act of self-defense"8. Adams challenged the Court to find a more sweeping decision "on the basis of natural rights doctrines found in the Declaration of Independence"9. However, the majority opinion "found slavery repugnant and contrary to Christian morality, he supported the laws protecting its existence and opposed the abolitionists as threats to ordered society. Property rights, he believed, were the basis of civilization"10.
D. Impact of the Amistad incident on slavery.
The impact of the Amistad incident gave the abolitionists a social and political boost that would continue to echo into the future. "The importance of the Amistad case lies in the fact that Cinque ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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