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Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy (review)
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BOOK REVIEWS79 piece of Lincolniana, but instead within a broader institutional and social setting, a commendable attempt. However, it must still be dealt with as a piece of Lincolniana. Over thirty years ago, Ruth Painter Randall also did not choose between the protagonists: "Here were two wellmeaning human beings, mother and son, caught, through no fault of their own, in fateful circumstances from which neither could escape and which brought each intolerable pain." Despite the admittedly significant findings of these authors, Mrs. Randall's point is still well taken. Ronald D. Rietveld California State University—Fullerton Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a S/aue Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy. By Howard Jones. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Pp. xii, 271. $22.95.) Samuel Eliot Morison asserted in 1965: "The most famous case involving slavery, until eclipsed by Dred Scott's, was that of the Amistad in 1839." During the past decade, with the fires of revolution well banked, it has become difficult to find textbook references to Amistad, as affair, case, or mutiny. Now, thanks to Howard Jones, Alabama University historian, one may expect textbook writers to attempt inclusion of a paragraph or two on this "famous case." Jones's careful, comprehensive study makes that task relatively easy. Not that the Amistad story was ever simple. It began in Havana in June 1839 with the purchase of fifty-three new arrivals from Africa by José Ruiz and Pedro Montes. They chartered Amistad to carry the Africans down the Cuban coast for resale. On July 2, under the leadership of Joseph Cinque, the blacks overpowered the crew, killing the master but sparing Ruiz and Montes, and then attempted to sail back to Africa. Ignorant of navigation, they had to depend on Montes—who steered north by northeast at night while running an easterly course by day. Eventually, Amistad reached Long Island Sound where the U.S.S. Washington, Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney commanding, sighted her on August 26 and took her to New London and Judge Andrew T. Judson 's U.S. district court. In compliance with Pinckney's Treaty of 1795, President Martin Van Buren's administration decided to return the vessel to her Havana owners—and her human cargo to Spanish justice on charges of mutiny and murder. From the first hearingbefore Judge Judson, however, abolitionists came to the rescue. Led by Arthur and Lewis Tappan, among others, they argued that Cinque and his companions had been kidnapped out of Africa, had never been slaves under Spanish law, and had risen against Amistads master and crew only in self-defense. Roger Sherman Baldwin and John Quincy Adams brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on March 9, 1841, Mr. Justice Joseph Story found 80CIVILWAR HISTORY the blacks "unlawfully transported to Cuba" and free. The Court called Lt. Gedney's seizure ofAmistada "useful service to her owners," worthy of salvage. The Story decision was hardly the final act of the drama. Shortly after that decision, Baldwin asked Adams: "What shall we do with them now they are free?" Adams asked Secretary of State Daniel Webster to arrange passage to Africa, but President John Tyler, in the absence of an appropriation, suggested that the American Colonization Society assume the burden. In the end, private donations chartered the barque Gentleman which departed New York on November 27, 1841, carrying thirty-five black survivors of the long ordeal. They reached Sierra Leone in January 1842, three years after they had been captured and carried into slavery. For the next quarter-century, theAmistad case fueled ill-will between the U.S. and Spain. Ministry after ministry tried to reopen the case, plaguing the administrations of Polk, Taylor, Pierce, and Buchanan. Congressmen from slave states, fearful of the precedent of freeing Africans who had killed a white man with cane knives, consistently supported Madrid's claims, but abolitionists mustered sufficient votes to block legislation which, in effect, would have paid Gedney's salvage money to Ruiz and Montes. Not until civil war rent the nation asunder did the controversy end. As Jones concludes: "The death of slavery in the United States closed the Amistad...