Amistad 1839 Slave Revolt
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Amistad is a recreation of the true story about a 1839 slave revolt on a small Spanish schooner, La Amistad, ironically the Spanish word for “friendship.” Spielberg does a great job in recreating the Amistad revolt that spurred a series of trials beginning in the lower courts of Connecticut and ultimately ending in the Supreme Court. Events following the revolt raise controversial questions about slavery and freedom. This case not only marks a milestone for Abolitionists in their fight against slavery but it also questioned the natural laws of our Constitution.
Leading up to the trial of the Africans, Spielberg illustrates the horrors the slaves endured as they were captured and taken from their homes. It is very distressing to see the cruelty that was imposed on the slaves as they were captured. The slaves were shackled and chained, then packed in an unsanitary, overcrowded slave ship, and exposed to inhuman treatment, on the Portuguese slaver Tecora as it makes its way through the Middle Passage towards Cuba. Although a third of the slaves died aboard the Tecora before it reached its destination, those that survived the trip were eventually auctioned into slavery in Havanna, Cuba..
The revolt on the slave ship Amistad resulted in the deaths of the captain and cook of the ship. The Africans did spared the lives of two Spaniards who were needed to help navigate the ship back to Africa. The Africans had control of the Amistad for only a short time before it was seized by the U.S. Army, capturing the Africans and forcing them to face a trial, on charges of murder and mutiny. This trial marked the beginning of a court case that dramatically challenged our judicial system.
The Abolitionists play a big part in the outcome of this trial. Abolitionists to enhance strong public emotion against slavery, begin publicizing the horror stories and brutalities of slavery. They felt sorry for the slaves and with the help of Edward Tappin, an abolitionist leader, they secured the services of an attorney Roger S. Baldwin of Connecticut to defend the Africans. What amazed me, is that even with odds against the Africans, as the judge in the trial, Andrew T. Judson was an opponent of slavery and he was also under pressure by President Van Buren to send the Africans back to Cuba, justice prevailed for the Africans. At least for a short time when Judson ruled that the Africans had been kidnapped and ordered their return to Africa. The Abolitionists and Africans felt that justice had been served, until President Van Buren requested an appeal to the Supreme Court, in which five of the justices had been slave owners.
The Abolitionists and Roger S. Baldwin the Africans attorney felt the only way they could win this trial is by seeking help from an influential person of status. They appealed to former President, John Quincy Adams for help. Adams accepted the case and in the Supreme Court trial, Adams delivered an emotional argument challenging the Court to grant the Africans liberty on the basis of the natural rights as outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
Anthony Hopkins shines in his role as John Quincy Adams, with his argument to the Supreme Court. He expresses so much emotion, while pointing to a copy of the Declaration of Independence on the wall in the courtroom he states “I know of no other law that reaches the case of my clients, but the law of Nature and Natures God on which our fathers placed our own national existence. The Africans, he proclaimed were victims of a conspiracy that denied their rights as human beings.
The Supreme Court rules the slaves free, stating that the slaves had