Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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AMISTAD CASE, The (IN U. S. HISTORY). June 27, 1839, the schooner L'Amistad left Havana for Puerto Principe, with a cargo of slaves, fresh from Africa. The slaves, at the first opportunity rose in revolt and killed the whites except two, whom they reserved to navigate the vessel to Africa. The two white men gradually altered the ship's course so that, in August, she was off Long Island, New York, where she was seized by a United States war vessel, and sent into New London. Mr. Calderon, the Spanish minister, in the absence of an extradition treaty, asked the surrender of the ship and cargo as an act of international comity, and president Van Buren, supported by the advice of the attorney general, was determined to grant the request on the ground that the slaves were "property rescued from pirates," which Spain and the United States, by the treaty of Oct. 27, 1795, had agreed to mutually restore. Counsel for the slaves contended that even by the Spanish law, they were free men, having been illegally carried into slavery from Africa. The case first came on in the district court, and the administration was so confident of the result that a vessel was ordered to New Haven to convey the blacks to Cuba. But the abolitionists, throughout the country, took an intense interest in the case, secured counsel, and gained a verdict in the district court. The district attorney then appealed to the circuit court, and thence to the supreme court, which gave final judgment, March 9, 1841, that the blacks, having been kidnapped from a foreign country, were not bound by treaties with Spain, but were free men. The case in the supreme court was distinguished by the argument of John Quincy Adams in favor of the blacks.


—The case is in 15 Peters, 518, (14 Curtis, 156); 3 Opinions of the Attorneys General, 484; 10 Adams' Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, 398; 2 von Holst's United States, 321. The treaty of 1795 is in 8 Stat. at Large, 138; art. 9, p. 142, is the one specially referred to. See Barber's History of the Amistad Captives.

A. J.

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