"FOR SERVICES IN THE CASE OF THE SCHOONER AMISTAD AND NEGROES": ORIGINAL 1840 LETTER FROM THE STATE DEPARTMENT ARRANGING PAYMENT FOR LEGAL REPRESENTATION IN THE AMISTAD CASE
(SLAVERY). Autograph letter signed [Payment to a government attorney in the Amistad case]. Washington, February 1840. Single sheet of unlined paper, measuring 8 by 10 inches folded in half; p. 1. $4500.
Original 1840 autograph signed letter from the Department of State to attorney William Holabird enclosing $200 (not present) as payment for his clerk C.A. Ingersol, who temporarily took over representing the government in the Amistad case during a special session of the District Court in New London.
The autograph letter reads in full: "Department of State. Washington — Feby 1840. W.S. Holabird Esq. U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut. Winchester Ct. Sir, I enclose a check on the Bank of America for $200 the amount of your account for payment to C.A. Ingersol for services in the case of the Schooner Amistad and Negroes. I enclose a duplicate receipt therefore which you are requested to sign and enclose to the Department addressed as follows "The Department of State Washington D.C." I am, Sir, Your obedt. Servt. Edw B. Stubbs, Agent." 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). 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). The case at issue in this letter, Gedney v. L'Amistad, was initially argued in the U.S. District Court for Connecticut. It was subsequently appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams powerfully and successfully argued that the United States had no standing as a party in the case; that the Amistad captives were not legally Spanish slaves; that there were no treaties between the U.S. and Spain mandating the return of slaves; and that the U.S. had illegally interfered on behalf of the Spanish government to the detriment of the alleged Spanish slaves. Original fold marks from mailing.
A bit of fading to ink but still wholly legible, original ink smudge over "Negroes," mild toning to extremities, staining to rear panel (only address on it). Extremely good condition.