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United States v. The Amistad



south : in favor of the slavery

north of the Usa : against slavery


In 1839, a group of african people had been kidnapped in west Africa(sierra leone).They were placed on board of the Spanish ship La Amistad

one of the slaves Joseph Cinqué, freed himself and other slaves on the ship : Resulting the rebellion of Africans on board

The ship was traveling along the coast of Cuba towards a port for the resale of slaves.

Pedro montez and Jose Ruiz have promised the Africans to bring them back to Africa but in reality they went to the north of the United States. La Amistad was later apprehended near Long Island, New York, by the United States Revenue Cutter Service

circuit court of Hartford in September 1839

slaves were accused of mutiny and murder.

the president Martin Van Buren Said that the slaves should be extradited back to cuba.

the court agreed and stating that the alleged criminal acts took place on a Spanish ship in Spanish waters it was Spanish problem .

FEDERAL DISTRICT COURT Connecticut- the arguments

1) Ruiz and montez they argued the africans were slaves and their property

4) other peoples

  • Henry Green and Pelatiah Fordham claimed that they had been the first to discover La Amistad
  • Antonio Vega,libelled for "the slave Antonio" on the grounds that the man was his personal property

2) The Spanish government government argued that the slave should be retuned to Spain because of the 1795 anti-piracy treaty between us and Spain `

  • were born free in their native Africa and unlawfully kidnapped to be sold as slaves
  • the slaves landed in NY where slavery is illegal
  • treaty between Britain and Spain in 1817 and a subsequent pronouncement by the Spanish government had outlawed the slave trade across the Atlantic.

3) The slaves who were represented by the amistad committee



  • => detail of the decision
  • It rejected the claim of the U.S. Attorney, who argued on behalf of the Spanish minister for the restoration of the slaves.
  • It dismissed the claims of Ruiz and Montez
  • It ordered that the captives be delivered to the custody of the U.S. President for transportation to Africa since they were in fact legally free.
  • It allowed the Spanish vice-consul to claim the slave Antonio.
  • It allowed Lt. Gedney to claim one third of the property on board La Amistad.
  • It allowed Tellincas, Aspe, and Laca to claim one third of the property.
  • It dismissed the claims of Green and Fordham for salvage.

The district court ruled that the African aboard the amistad were unlawfully kidnapped and ordered the US government to return them back to Africa

Circuit court of appeals - 1840

The us attorney for the District of Connecticut, by order of the president Van Buren, immediately appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court for the Connecticut District.

The Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court's decision in April 1840.The U.S. appealed again the federal government's case to the U.S. Supreme Court


On February 23, 1841, began the pleading phase before the Supreme Court.

The Africans -John Quincy Adams.

THE USA- US Attorney General

  • Africans were in possession of the ship and had the presumptive right of ownership
  • The ship belonged to them, and, being in immediate communication with the shore of NY => they were entitled to all the provisions of the law of nations, and to the protection and comforts afforded by the laws of this State

  • Africans were Spanish property
  • Africans were slaves, as the documents stated, they should be returned to their rightful owner, the Spanish government.


were the Africans aboard the Amistad the property of ruiz and montez ?

question to the justices

VERDICT : NO , the slaves are not the the property of ruiz and montez

(VOTE : 7 no / 1 abstention, and 1 yes)

The court : the africans were never citizens of spain and were illegally taken from their homes in Africa, where they were free people .

The court order the africans be sent back to Africa . The amsitad committee helped the African until they could raise enough money to return them to Africa .

John Quincy Adams.