Juneteenth: 7 milestones in the struggle to abolish slavery

U.S. v. Amistad – 1841


In March 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that the slaves who had rebelled on the Spanish slave ship Amistad were wrongfully abducted from Africa and should be freed.

Two years earlier, 53 Africans had taken control of the Amistad after rising up and killing the captain. They were eventually discovered by an American vessel and brought to Connecticut.

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The high court ruled in favor of the Africans, concluding in part that their impressment into slavery was illegal according to Spanish law, which prohibited the slave trade.

The case served as a major rallying point for the abolitionist movement, which, along with former President John Quincy Adams, played a key role in the litigation.

“For 8 ½ hours, the 73-year-old Adams passionately and eloquently defended the Africans' right to freedom on both legal and moral grounds, referring to treaties prohibiting the slave trade and to the Declaration of Independence,” explained the National Archives.

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