La Amistad 1839

In 1839, a group of Africans who had escaped their captors in a bloody battle aboard ship, found themselves fighting again for their freedom—this time in court. The Cuban owners of the schooner Amistad claimed the kidnapped Africans as property. President Martin Van Buren, eager to avoid conflict, pressured the court to comply. Abolitionists promoted the Africans’ cause and convinced former President John Quincy Adams to defend them.

Adams argued before the Supreme Court in 1841, “The moment you come to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided.” The court eventually agreed that the slaves had a right to resist, but only because they had been illegally traded.