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tv   Reel America Amistad - The Federal Courts the Challenge to Slavery -...  CSPAN  July 7, 2021 7:17pm-7:47pm EDT

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>> in the summer of 1839, a
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formal skinner accidentally sailed across the shores of the united states and transform the federal courts into a forum for an explosive national debate. the drama that began with the enslaved africans on the -- end to control of the vessel off of the coast of cuba would culminate in the supreme of the united states with a former president arguing on behalf of the africans who vied for freedom. ♪ ♪ ♪ the case forced the federal board to consider the legal foundations of the choice.
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♪ ♪ ♪ for several weeks in the summer of 1839, newspapers along the atlantic coast reported sightings of a materials schooner supposedly commanded by african pirates. late in august, the crew of the navy brig washington spotted a badly damaged vessel in long island sound. and a short party trailing to local residents known along the new york coast. when the naval officers boarded the alistair, they were embraced by tuesday spanish men fleeing from a group of african men who they had purchased as slaves in cuba, but who had taken control of the ship. the crew of the washington took
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control of the armistead, and africans on board. and they towed the screener to connecticut, a state where slavery was legal, instead of court to new york where slavery had been abolished. under the law of salvage anyone who rescued the ship from danger was entitled to a portion of the value of the ship and its cargo. once in port, the commanding officer of the washington contacted the federal marshal and requested a hearing in the u.s. district court in order to file a claim of salvage. he and the crew intended the claim for rescuing the armistead, and its cargo, including the enslaved crew. on august 29th, the armistead case entered the judicial system when u.s. district court judge and do -- andrew jested conducted a court of inquiry on the washington bridge and the armistead being taken out of the water.
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the local court, and group of observers ahead testimony from the two spanish planters about the armistead's voyage from cuba to england. the planters were pedro monte's, who testified that each had purchased a group of slaves in havana and then chartered the armistead to carry the slaves to plantations on the coast of cuba. several nights out of havana, the enslaved men freed themselves, and in their struggle to take command of the ship killed at the captain and his crew. the leaders of the revolt forced montana and -- to sail the ship into west africa, but each night the spaniards shifted course for the north and west in hopes of encountering another ship. nearly two months later, the armistead reached long island sound desperately short of food and water.
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one of the enslaved africans on board the washington during the inquest was a young man -- who would become better known as -- he spoken either english or spanish and could not testify at this quartz session, but he was recognized as the court officers as the leader of the africans on the armistead. reporters at the hearing commented on his composure, characteristic of true courage. his presence dramatized the unique character of this case, a case that resulted from the actions of enslaved africans, and in which these african captives would appear in court rooms to assert the right to freedom. jets and move the cord to the armistead itself in order to hear testimony from antonio, a slave who served as cabin boy to the slain a captain. antonio recounted what he had witnessed the night of the
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revolt. and in the armistad hold crowded with the africans in custody, he identified those who had held the revolt along with the real leader. after hearing the testimony, judge jackson ordered the u.s. marshal to hold the adult africans in custody in a new haven jail. he also ordered that antonio and three young girls purchased as slaves in cuba be held in custody to serve as witnesses. the testimony held both civil and criminal questions. some of them were held to the district of connecticut and set a date for the u.s. district court to hear the sailors salvage claim. the judiciary act of 1789 establish both district and circuit court for the federal judicial system. among the powers granted to district courts was the authority to hear cases involving maritime commerce and the trade laws of the new
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nation. in the amistad case, the connecticut district court was be responsible for hearing all property related to the ship and its cargo. circuit court, which operated from 1789 to 1911 were also trial courts that exercised jurisdiction over most federal crimes over disputes over citizens of different states and overall but the smallest cases in which the federal government was a party of. they also heard some appeals from the district courts. the circuit court in connecticut would consider the u.s. attorney charges of murder in piracy on the amistad. circuit courts had no authorized judgments of their own so the district judge and the justice of the supreme court presided over them and each of the nine supreme court justices were assigned -- and spent much of your traveling to the circuit court further. inland this practice was known as circuit riding.
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the circuit justice for connecticut was smith thompson, a new yorker pointed to the supreme court in 1823 by president james monroe. ♪ ♪ ♪ during the three weeks between the initial inquest and the sessions of the district and circuit courts, the amistad case became the subject of a growing national debate on slavery. led by wealthy merchant lewis tablet, a group of slave advocates a new york recognized the opportunity to build national support for the abolitionist of slavery in the united states. these abolitionist and founded a case that they were looking for to challenge the laws of slavery in federal court. his associates formed a committee to represent the jailed africans. and in a newspaper appeal to friends of liberty, they asked for donations in order to employ interpreters, lawyers, and whatever else it took to secure the rights of the
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african. they called upon yale college linguistic professors decide gibbs to give the captives a voice in the upcoming court proceedings. gibbs learned some basic phrases from the captains, and then searched the dots of new york -- docks of new york trying to find an african slavery to service translator. within a week, gibbs met two sailors from west africa's mandy region. the abolitionist soon learn was the home of the african captives on the amistad. while the abolitionists organized their legal strategy, the spanish ambassador to the united states signed a treaty between the two countries requested that the ship and cargo including the alleged slaves be returned without any payment for salvage. the administration of martin van buren decided to enter the case on the side of the spanish
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planters and ship owners. van buren, a democrat, faced a difficult bid for reelection in 1840 and was determined not to anger southern slave holders who supported the democratic party. the president preferred to deal with the amistad as a diplomatic problem, and let the secretary of state john forsyth managed the administration's response to the case. forsyth instructed the u.s. attorney in connecticut to take whatever steps were necessary to keep the africans in federal custody and ready -- ready for transport to spanish authorities. ♪ ♪ ♪ preparations for the court proceedings took place against a backdrop of intense public curiosity about the case. and especially about the mandy captives. newspapers across the country abated questions of federal jurisdiction and the law of piracy. even popular entertainment capitalized on the interest. within a few days of the original inquest, a new york
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theater presented a play called, the long low black skinner. in new haven, nearly 4000 people paid the trailer for a chance to view the men in custody. the greatest public attention focused on cinqué, the nation leading african american newspaper compared cinqué to senator daniel webster who hoped would represent him in court. other papers portrayed cinqué as a classical hero. at the same time, racist newspapers presented vicious accounts of his supposedly savage attack. after the translators survived in new haven, newspapers printed articles about the men these family, their occupations and the counts of their incitement. a broad public soon recognized the men held in custody as
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distinct individuals devastated by the cruelties of the slave trade. a circuit court convened in a state house at harvard connecticut on september 17th 1839. sitting in the senate chamber, the court first had a panel on the grand jury to give testimony regarding the u.s. attorneys indictment of the mandy on charges of murder in piracy. when the reinjury asked for construction from the bench, circuit justice smith townsend ruled that no federal court had jurisdiction over an act that occurred on a foreign vessel etsy. this ruling eliminated all prosecution of the africans. thompson referred the admiralty case concerning trade and property questions to the u.s. district court for connecticut. the amenities fate now depended upon a court proceeding that revolved around the question of
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their status as property, rather than any accusation of wrongdoing. in the district court, the crew of the navy washington ship and the people who traded with the man in yorkshire submitted rival claims for salvage rewards. both parties asserted that the manatee were slaves and should be considered part of the armistead's cargo. planes for recovery of the property was submitted by the planters who had purchased amenity and by the heirs of the boy antonio's own. the u.s. attorney, william submitted to different claims in anticipation of two possible decisions of the court. if the court determined that them in the were slaves and the property of spanish planters, the federal government's attorney asserted that they should be delivered to agents of the spanish government. if the court decided that mendi had been a enslaved and
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transported to the united states, the government wanted them delivered to the president for return to their native country out of the provisions of an anti slave act. in a proceeding with no jury, determination of the district court case rested solely with judge andrew jettison. the abolitionist feared he would not be sympathetic to appeals from africans. judge senate was appointed by president andrew jackson in 1836, prior to that, he was well known for his efforts to shut down the connecticut school established by abolitionists for the education of african american girls. nor were they mendi lawyers encouraged by the activities of the van buren administration. the president ordered the positioning of a navy ship off the coast of new haven, so that the captains could be removed immediately if the judge ordered their return to cuba. in new haven, when jets and
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convene the district court session in january of 1820, he faced one of the largest crowds ever assembled to view a federal court proceeding. most of the spectators supported the abolitionists and followed the case so intently that they refused to leave their seats during the midday recesses. the team of experience lawyers recruited by the abolitionist committee was led by roger sherman baldwin, salon of famous political family. baldwin and his colleagues followed the legal strategy based on personal liberties and the loss of property. the air priority was to win the courts acknowledgment that slavery violated natural rights. those rights to which every human was entitled regardless of any nations laws. baldwin argued that the enslaved mandy had a natural right to return to their home land or seek asylum in a free country. but baldwin also needed to respond to the president from
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an earlier supreme court case involving slaves transported by citizens of other nations. in that case, chief justice john marshals wrote the opinion, ruling that even though slavery violated natural law, the federal courts must support the right to hold slave property whenever any government had approved a laws and supported slavery for the slave trade. and in the circuit court hearing, justice thompson had reminded baldwin that the united states constitution protected slavery. baldwin argue that under spanish law, the mendi could not be considered lawfully held slaves. the captives had only recently been transported to cuba, which was in violation of a spanish treaty prohibiting the african slave trade. and that under the terms of that spanish treaty, the mendi were free in cuba or any other spanish territory.
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in a trial filled with -- polish laws and treaty obligations, the dramatic high point came when he presented court with a chilling narrative of enslavement men. speaking to a translator, seen k described his capture by slave traders in west africa. and the horrors of what was called the middle passage. the voyage across the atlantic with several hundred people can find in the suffocating cold of a slave ship. he demonstrated the painful position the enslaved were forced to maintain day and night. seen k also reenacted the brutal physical scrutiny of the africans by the planters in the havana slave market. two under mandy captains, gave similar testimony about being kidnapped and enslaved within
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the past year. after five days of testimony, judge jets and read his lengthy decision to a crowded courtroom. and response to the conflicting claims of salvage, jets and determined that the naval officers and crew had taken custody of a ship and almost certain danger of shrinking and thus, were entitled to one a reward of one third of the value of the ship and its cargo. but jensen denied the salvage for rescuing the africans because slave sales were illegal in connecticut and so, the court had no way to determine a monetary value of slaves. the judge then considered spain's demand for the return of the mandy as the rightful property of spanish citizens. according to jettison, the spaniards right to this property and with it, the fate of the mendi depending on proof of ownership and proof that the africans were in fact property
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under spanish law. on both points, jets and surprised nearly everyone by ruling against the spanish claims. jets and determined that the spanish planters possess no legal evidence of ownership, only passes were transporting slaves and that these documents incorrectly stated that the africans on the amistad were long time habitants of spanish territory. the spanish treaty prohibiting the slave trade from africa declared that any africans transported after 1820 were to be free in spanish territory, including cuba. since the testimony of several witnesses proved that the mandy had arrived recently in cuba, jets and declared that they were not a lawfully held property and could not be delivered to spanish officials. instead, jets and granted a u.s. attorney's alternate request, that the mandy be delivered to the president for
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print transport to their native land. the mendi were elated at the possibility of returning home, but disappointed that jets and had not declared them free individuals. judge jets in the next turn to the question of antonio, this label had been cabin boy for the amistad's main captain. the abolitionist wanted the court to affirm natural rights and establish a precedent for challenging slavery in the united states. but their hopes collapsed one jets and ruled that because antonio was born in spanish territory as a slave, he was the legal property of the captain and must be delivered to the spanish government along with other spanish property. any possible homecoming for the mendi was postponed when the u.s. attorney appealed to his decision to the u.s. circuit court.
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that court convene in hartford of a 40, with circus justice smith thompson providing. in order to hasten the certain appeal to the supreme court, here affirmed the district court's decision. pending the -- in january, 1841, the mandy remained in federal custody. although in less restrictive confines in the town of west ville, outside new haven. and the coming months, several of them took odd jobs and all received religious and language instruction provided by the abolitionists. no one could predict how the supreme court justices would respond to the amistad case. the majority of the nine justices were slave holders, among them, chief justice tony. in a few previous cases dealing with slavery, the supreme court had protected the institution as it existed in the united states. but the court had strictly
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enforced the prohibition on the foreign slave trade. anticipation about the deliberations were further heightened when former president john quincy adams joins a group of lawyers representing the mendi. the abolitionist community wanted a prominent statesman on the legal team and when daniel webster declined, they turn to the 73 year old former president. adams was then serving as a member of the house of representatives, where he had earned the nickname, old man eloquent for his tireless condemnation of slavery. in february, 1841, the case came before the supreme court and its chamber on the ground floor of the capital building. large crowds gathered in expectation of dramatic -- . u.s. attorney general henry guilty and presented the government's arguments in support of the spanish claims to the alleged slaves.
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and roger sherman baldwin repeatedly arguments he had used in the lower courts. then, former president adams hole offered the court and its audience a seven-hour performance over the course of two days. his emotional arguments included a blistering critique of the van buren administration. adams accused the administration of concealing the spanish demand for return of the captains for trial, which would surely lead to their execution in cuba. adams repeatedly invoked the principles of the rollout as to bodied in the declaration of independence, to copies of which hong before the justice in the supreme court chamber. on march 9th, 1841, nearly 18 months after the federal courts first ordered the detention of many, just this joseph story delivered his opinion for the majority of the supreme court. story, from massachusetts, was
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the court senior justice and the nation's most respected constitutional scholar. after a lengthy review of the federal court proceedings, and the arguments presented to the supreme court, story issued a decision that finally gave the captives their unconditional freedom. the supreme court upheld the district court's ruling that the mendi recently arrived in cuba internal be delivered to spanish officials as legally held property. the justices, however, overturned jason's decision to deliver the captives to the president for return to africa. the supreme court decision immediately freed the mendi and released him from federal custody. the victory of freedom was bittersweet and left the mandy with no means by which to return to their homeland. to raise money for transportation, the
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abolitionists staged public appearance of which the mendi saying, resided from the bible and demonstrated their english language skills. one event at the broadway tabernacle in the work attracted more than 2500 people. finally, in november 1841, the 35 surviving mendi departed for sierra leone, accompanied by several missionaries from the united states. the decision that free these particular captives offered no wreaked legal relief for the nearly 3 million residents of the united states held in slavery. the supreme court let stand the district court ruling that the cabin boy antonio was a slave under spanish law. and like all lawfully held slaves, must be returned to his owners. soon after the decision, antonio escape to canada and freedom, realizing the dream shared by many slaves in the united states. yet, nothing in the amistad
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case would serve as a president for legal challenges to slavery within the united states. until the civil war, the federal courts the continue to protect slave property at the same time that they enforce the laws prohibiting the slave trade from africa. and abolitionists largely abandoned efforts to challenge slavery through the federal judiciary. like many other important cases in the history of the federal courts, i must add had its greatest impact in the world beyond the courts. the legend of seem k inspired others and slaved people and remains a powerful tale of the quest for freedom. the widely reported court proceedings expose the fragile legal principles and political compromises supporting slavery. and the personal stories of enslavement won the anti slavery cause many new supporters. the lasting impact of
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armistead's passage through the federal courts was to encourage the growing opposition to slavery in the united states. ♪ ♪ ♪
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>> 60 years ago on april 17th 1961, a force of more than 1400 cia trained cuban exiles marched an invasion at the bay of kids pigs on the southern coast of cuba, called regrade 25 or six. their goal was the overthrow of communist leader fidel castro. who had taken power only two days earlier in the human revolution. the vision dissing degraded in a matter of days with 118 killed and more than 1100 captured. the fiasco cast -- over kennedy's three month old administration and set the stage a year later with the soviet union known as the cuban missile crisis. tonight, beginning at 8 pm eastern on american history tv, we take a look back at the failed invasion and its consequences.
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