"LIVING PROOF OF THE HORRORS OF THE AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE": IMPORTANT FIRST EDITION OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS' POWERFUL ARGUMENT BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT IN THE AMISTAD CASE, 1841
(SLAVERY) ADAMS, John Quincy. Argument of John Quincy Adams, Before the Supreme Court of the United States, In the Case of United States, Appellants, vs. Cinque, and Others, Africans, Captured in the Schooner Amistad, by Lieut. Gedney, Delivered on the 24th of February and 1st of March, 1841. With a Review of the Case of the Antelope, Reported in the 10th, 11th and 12th Volumes of Wheaton's Reports. New York: S.W. Benedict, 1841. Octavo, original cream self-wrappers, very early stitching; pp. (1-3) 4-135 (1). Housed in a custom folding chemise and slipcase.
First editions of John Quincy Adams' eloquent Argument in the landmark Amistad Case presented before the Supreme Court in 1841—"an astounding saga for the case that truth is more powerful than anything the imagination could invent" (Blockson).
In 1839 Africans on the Spanish slave ship Amistad seized command of the vessel on the Cuban coast and directed the slave owners to sail the ship back to Africa. Steered north without the Africans' knowledge, the Amistad was boarded in Long Island Sound and the ship's 39 Africans were jailed for murder, mutiny and piracy. The ensuing two-year legal case—"the most celebrated slave mutiny of the 19th century"—became an international cause célèbre (Blockson, Commented Bibliography, 24). Leading the defense was New Haven lawyer Roger S. Baldwin, with 74-year-old John Quincy Adams, the nation's sixth president, enlisted for its closing. The Amistad case presented "living proof of the horrors of the African slave state… As a legal case it involved three levels of the federal courts, the president of the United States, the secretary of state, the attorney general, a former president, the governments of Spain and Great Britain… and a host of lawyers" (Finkelman, 228). When the case of Gedney v. L'Amistad, initially argued in the U.S. District Court for Connecticut, was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, pleadings began in February 1841 and, after a brief hiatus caused by the death of Justice Philip Barbour, resumed March 1.
Former President John Quincy Adams' powerful Argument remains "one of his most eloquent public statements" (Nagel, 380). He presents evidence that (1) Amistad captives were not slaves under Spanish law; that "(2) no treaties between the United States and Spain required that the United States return slaves to Spain; (3) the U.S. government had no legitimate interest in the outcome of the case, and, therefore… had no standing as a party to the suit; and (4) the U.S. government had illegally, unconstitutionally, and immorally interfered on behalf of the Spanish claimants and against the Africans" (Finkelman, 234). In addition he cites the one major legal precedent, the case of the Antelope, and distinguishes it from the Amistad, citing Chief Justice Marshall's opinion in that earlier case to foreground a legal standard of morality. Five days after Adams' concluding Argumenti, "the majority decision, in which Chief Justice Roger Taney concurred, was read by Justice Story. With only one dissent, the Court found for Adams' side. The Africans were declared free… Encouraged by his Amistad triumph," Adams re-entered public life with renewed vigor and "predicted that 'the world will retire from me before I shall retire from the world" (Nagel, 381). "In the official report of this case, the reporter planned 'to insert the able and interesting argument of Mr. Adams, for the African appellees; and the publication of the 'reports' was 'postponed in the hope of obtaining it… But Adams did not send Richard Peters his arguments, and they were not printed with the report of the case… While Adams was unable to put the finishing touches on his argument before the volume of United States Reports went to press, he did make the arguments available in the form of this 135-page pamphlet." Harvard Law Catalogue I:14; 110. Sabin 274. Marvin, 90. Finkelman, 232-3. Trace of label removal to upper corner of front wrapper not affecting text.
Generally fresh with light scattered foxing, occasional marginal dampstaining. An extremely good copy of a seminal work in American history.