American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Reason

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Adams Defends the

Brief in the Amistad Case
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
Brief in the Amistad Case
Autograph notes,
[February 24 and March 1, 1841]
Manuscript Division

After fifty-three African captives aboard the Spanish schooner Amistad mutinied off the coast of Cuba in 1839, killing the captain and cook, they tried to sail the vessel back to Africa. Captured off Long Island, their return was demanded by the Spanish government. Former president John Quincy Adams argued their case before the Supreme Court in 1841, and largely through his efforts, the captives were freed and permitted to return to Africa. Adams's legal brief, "extraordinary for its power" in the words of Justice Joseph Story, was widely circulated in print and became a milestone in the abolitionist cause.

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