Amistad is based on a true story about an 1839 slave revolution. La Amistad is the Spanish word for ?friendship?, ironically the ship had nothing to do with friends at all. The ship?s purpose was to illegally transport slaves to Spain. The director, Speilberg does an excellent job of recreating a revolt by slaves that started in the lower courts of Connecticut and ultimately ended in the highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court.
The slaves were taken from a slave fortress and transported aboard the Tecora to a slave auction in Havana, Cuba. It is horrifying to see the conditions in which these slaves endured in their journey across the Atlantic Ocean. They were shackled and chained, thrown into an unsanitary, overcrowded cell and fed one hand-full of food a day. These conditions were so harsh that only a third of them actually survived to make the final destination. Once they arrived in Cuba, 44 were auctioned off to the Spanish and were to be transported by the way of La Amistad. The revolt on the Amistad resulted in deaths of the captain of the boat and a few of the crew members, leaving two men who were necessary to navigate the boat back to Africa. The slaves had control of the boat for a little more than six weeks before the U.S. Navy recaptured the boat and forced the slaves to appear before an American judge and jury for murder. The trial was the beginning of a judiciary battle that would have the American people in frenzy. The abolitionists led by Theodore Jones were fighting for the slaves on the grounds that it was morally wrong and they were illegally taken from their homeland. The slaves were represented by attorney at law Roger Baldwin who thought the case was an open shut case because the issue of their freedom had nothing to do with murder or mutiny, but the fact that their origin was not Cuba, but Africa, meaning they were not legal slaves.
The judge was dealing with more than issues in just this case. He was under pressure of the president Martin Van Buren to send the slaves back to Cuba fearing the southern slave owning states would not re-elect him to office if they were to free the slaves. After hearing the powerful speech of Roger Baldwin the slaves had won their freedom, at least for a short time. When President Van Buren heard the news of the verdict he quickly appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The slaves were taken back into custody and waited for a retrial. While in the cell, one of the slaves was looking at the bible and trying to interpret through the pictures. He tries to tell the Cinque, the inspirational leader of the slaves, the story of Christ. He told him how Jesus could heal people with his hands and walk across the sea. He showed him pictures of women giving their children to Jesus and how much the people worshipped him but ultimately killed him on the cross. Cinque replied that he must have committed a heinous crime to deserve such treatment. The slave try to explain that Jesus did no wrong and neither did any of the slaves. Cinque realizing that if we would crucify an innocent man, their destiny didn?t look good.
Knowing that 7 of the 9 Supreme Court justices were southern slave owners, Roger Baldwin thought the only way he would have a chance in winning this final battle was with the help of John Adams, played by Anthony Hopkins. John Addams accepts the invitation to represent them in court. He gives an emotional argument of the slaves being victims as opposed to murderers. He points out a copy of the Declaration of Independence on the wall as he states, ?I know of no other law that reaches the case of my clients, but the law of Nature and Nature?s God on which our fathers placed our own national existence.? After deliberation the verdict was in. The defendants had no documentation of absolute origin of the slaves. The prosecution presented a lawful, bill of sale that entitled them to the ownership of the slaves. The Supreme Court justices ruled the slaves were in fact property of Spain.
This court decision added to the tension between the northern and southern disputes over slavery. America could no longer be divided over such a controversial issue. The northern industrialized, wealthy states waged a full-scale war on the south. The northern states having much more money and supplies thought the south wouldn?t stand a chance. However, Spain was just as interested in protecting the right to own slaves as the confederates, so when Queen Isabella II heard of the conflict, she was more than willing to send troops, supplies and money to the south. The north didn?t plan on the presence of such a super power and greatly underestimated the war ultimately resulting in their loss. Under the United Confederate States of America, President-elect Robert E Lee awaited his ceremony to be sworn into office.