The Trials of the Mendians

The Supreme Court Building

The Africans scared and keep in jail cells as prisoners, Ruiz and Montez filed a law suit to recover their lost "property", including the cargo on the La Amistad and the Africans.  But New York abolitionists found an attorney to take up the African's case, Roger S. Baldwin.  He built a case where the Africans had been illegally kidnapped (due to the fact that Spain had outlawed the African slave trade).  He said they were enslaved, and that they had the right to free their selves by any means necessary.

The trials actually began in September of 1839. The abolitionists pressured the judge to give a writ of habeas corpus, that would free the Africans pending any formal charges against them.  Associate Justice Smith Thompson denied the writ, though out of some sort of compassion, refused to indict the Africans for piracy or murder.

 During the time, Spain was formally demanding the return of the Africans so they could stand trial in Cuba for  murder and piracy.  Humorously, they were being referred to as thieves who had stolen themselves.

President Martin Van Buren, decide to throw the support of administration behind the Spanish claims.  In Connecticut, US District attorney William S. Holabird handled the case.  After issuing many preliminary rulings, Judge Andrew Judson postponed the trial to January.  During this time, the administration, expecting that the court would turn the Africans over to the Spanish justice, dispatched a US Naval vessel to New Haven to whisk them away before their defense team could file an appeal.

The trial resumed in New Haven, January of 1840.  The Judge Johnson ruled that the Africans were in fact illegally enslaved  and had ordered the us administration to return the Mendians to Africa.  But before they could be transported in more homier accommodations than the La Amistad, the White House and Spanish authorities appealed Judson's ruling to the US Circuit Court, which took the case in April in 1840.  Judge Thompson preserved Judson's findings, the administration then appealed the case up to the US Supreme Court.

But before they could get to the Supreme Court, congressmen and former US President John Quincy Adams joined Baldwin on the abolitionists team.  Although US attorney General Henry D. Gilpin presented the administration's case.

The US Supreme Court took about a month to reach a final decision on the case.  Associate Justice Joseph Story read the court's ruling. The court reversed Judson's order to the executive to return the Africans to their homeland, but essentially upheld Judson's findings, that the Africans had  been illegally enslaved and thus exercised a natural right given to every man or women, to fight for their freedom, and they won.

Learn more about the Amistad Revolt

To Amistad Rebellion Main Page

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