An amazing article in The Vault, the history component to Slate magazine, contains a photo of a thank-you letter to John Q. Adams, who served as counsel for the Africans before the Supreme Court in the case of US v Amistad in 1841. The occasion for the piece is the 175th anniversary of the kidnapping of the Africans in July 1839. Here's the article: Rebecca Onion The actual document, along with the transcript, is very moving. Thank you, Ms. Onion, for reporting on this. Here is the Court's decision: Amistad case
It is rather amazing that the Van Buren Administration took the position that the Africans were not free men and should be turned over to their "masters." Martin Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States, the first born to have been born a U.S. citizen and leader of the national Democratic party. Can you imagine the way the press would report on this story today, as the attorney for the United States tried to convince the highest court in the land that these Africans should be held as slaves?
The Court was composed of these members: Joseph Story of Massachusetts, appointed by Madison; Smith Thompson of New York, appointed by Monroe; John McLean of Ohio, appointed by Jackson; Henry Baldwin of Pennsylvania, appointed by Jackson; James Moore Wayne of Georgia, appointed by Jackson; Roger Taney of Maryland, appointed by Jackson, chief justice by Jackson; John Catron of Tennessee, appointed by Jackson; and John McKinley of Alabama, appointed by Van Buren. One justice, Philip Pendleton Barbour, died on February 25, 1841, before the decision was decided on March 9, 1841. Its composition, then, included 4 Northerners, 3 Southerners, and 1 Border Stater, and only one had been appointed by a Northerner. Just twenty years before the Civil War ensued, the Court rendered a unanimous verdict and ordered the men set free. And Taney of future Dred Scott fame/infamy was part and parcel of the decision. Story, the senior member of the Court, delivered the decision.
Van Buren later went over to the Free Soil party, helping produce a defeat of the 1848 Democratic candidate Lewis Cass of Michigan, with Whig Zachary Taylor being elected. Cass and Van Buren had fallen out. History is curious.