Directed by Steven Spielberg, in 1839 Africans on a slave ship Amistad revolt and take over the ship that ends up in the United States. They are imprisoned and put on trial, and their case is appealed to the Supreme Court.
In 1839 at night during a thunderstorm an African slave manages to remove a nail and open a box of weapons. The slaves are freed and attack the crew of the Spanish ship Amistad. They fight hand to hand with swords.
The next day the Africans have taken control of the ship, and only two Spaniards Ruiz (Geno Silva) and Montes (John Ortiz) are still alive and are handcuffed. Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) with a sword makes Ruiz steer the ship.
That night the Spaniard tells Cinque that he has to tack. Cinque takes over the wheel and is guided by the stars. Then he puts Ruiz back at the wheel.
At night the Africans sing and talk. Cinque takes a lamp away from the Spaniards so that they will not signal anyone. He points a gun at one and tells him to be quiet. Their ship passes another with Europeans who are listening to classical music being played.
Six weeks later they have run out of fresh water. They see land, and a small boat with some Africans goes to shore. While getting water they see a black man riding a bicycle.
The Amistad passes a ship going the other way, and they hear the name “Packwood.” The Africans on shore get back in the boat and paddle back toward the Amistad. Ruiz and Montez shout to the men on the other ship. Soldiers in a small boat with an American flag shoot at the Africans in the boat. Cinque is swimming in the water, and the American boat goes toward him. He sinks and comes up by the American boat and is captured.
The ships are in port, and the Africans are chained and taken to a prison. Cinque tries to resist and has his hand injured.
Queen Isabella II (Anna Paquin) of Spain looks at herself in a mirror. She dines alone, and her advisor comes in and tells her that something has happened.
At a political rally American President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne) tells a man the ambassador Calderon (Tomas Milian) not to bother him now. On his campaign train Van Buren tells Leder that he is trying to drink his brandy. He says there are three or four million Negroes in the United States, and he asks why he should be concerned about 44. Leder says there are reasons. Van Buren tells him to take care of it.
Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman) walks with Tappan (Stellan Skarsgard) and says the Amistad is too small to be a trans-Atlantic slaver. Tappan thinks they must be plantation slaves from the West Indies, but Joadson doubts that because of the scars he saw on them. They have entered a newspaper office, and Joadson says they were captured near Long Island and were conveyed to New Haven. He says they will be arraigned tomorrow on the charge of murder, and Tappan says he will see what he can do. He says he will make sure they have good counsel.
Soldiers are using chains and escort the African prisoners in the street.
In the district court Judge Juttson (Allan Rich) is presiding. He looks at the Africans and slowly takes his seat. He recognizes Holabird (Pete Postlethwaite) who starts to read the charges. Tappan comes forward with a writ of habeas corpus, and Holabird argues with him. Judge Juttson sides with Holabird who tells Tappan to stop impersonating a lawyer which he is not. Secretary of State John Forsyth (David Paymer) comes in and tells the judge he is there on behalf of President Van Buren. He is representing Queen Isabella of Spain in regard to their mutual treaty on the high seas of 1795. The judge says he is listening. Forsyth says the slaves are the property of Spain by that treaty, and they should be returned to Spain immediately. Lieutenant Gedney (Ralph Brown) and Lieutenant Meade (Darren e. Burrows) come in and claim the slaves as private citizens by right of salvage from the Spanish ship La Amistad with all its cargo. The judge asks the American naval officers if they are making their claims above those of the Queen of Spain. Then a Spaniard starts to speak; but an attorney (Paul Guilfoyle) comes forward holding up a paper and says they are the true owners of these slaves. He submits the receipt for their purchase in Havana, Cuba on June 26, 1839. He calls upon the court to immediately surrender them to his clients Ruiz and Montes.
Outside the courtroom Roger Sherman Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) introduces himself as an attorney to Tappan as he is coming out. Tappan asks if he can help him, and Baldwin asks what he does. Tappan says he owns businesses and banks. Baldwin says he handles property cases, and he believes that this case deals with ownership; but Tappan says what is needed is a criminal attorney, a trial lawyer, and he thanks him and gets into his carriage.
In the House of Representatives a member calls upon Mr. Adams from Massachusetts on his attempt to win them over to accept the odd bequest of James Smithson as a national treasure. He asks if he is meditating; but they laugh because Adams appears to be asleep in his chair. John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) with his eyes still closed replies to Mr. Pinckney that he does not think he deserves a response, or he would have done so hours ago.
On the steps an aide tells the elderly Adams that Lewis Tappan requests an audience with him, and he points him out. He goes down the steps and shakes hands with Tappan who introduces him to Joadson. Tappan says he thinks it is an important case. The Secretary of State has said he thinks the slaves belong to the Queen of Spain. Adams asks him if he thinks Van Buren cares about the whims of an 11-year-old girl on a throne. Right now he is out of town and only cares about getting himself re-elected. Adams clips a small flower. Tappan asks him to help them as an advocate of the cause of abolition, but Adams says he is neither a friend nor a foe of the abolitionist cause. Joadson speaks to the former President and says he knows him and his father who helped invent America. He says they left one unfinished task to complete the United States, and that is crushing slavery. He says his record makes him an abolitionist even if he does not admit it. He says he belongs with them. Adams says Joadson is a historian. He says without a mastery of one-tenth its measure of grace, that erudition is worthless. Adams says he knows, and he asks them to excuse him and walks away. Tappan tells him they aimed high in coming to him, and Adams tells him to aim lower.
At a table Joadson and Tappan are talking with Baldwin as he dines. Joadson says that if the court awards them to Spain, they will probably be executed in Cuba. If given to the two lieutenants, they will be sold to Spain. Baldwin asks them what they are worth to them. He says it is simpler than they think. He says the only way they can sell slaves is if they were born as slaves on a plantation, and they agree that they were not. Baldwin says if they were not born slaves, then they are not legally slaves. The issue is the wrongful transfer of stolen goods. Tappan says this is a battle of right, not of the vagaries of property. They disagree on the heart of the matter. Tappan says it is their destiny as abolitionists and Christians to save these people. They are people, not livestock. He says Jesus went to the cross nobly to make a statement. They must make a statement too, but Baldwin says he lost. He asks Joadson if he wants to win. Baldwin says he wants to win, and that is why he is paid. He says he will not paid unless he wins. He comes back to the question of worth and says he would require $2.50 a day.
The Africans in jail see a group of Christians approach and kneel down. They sing “Amazing Grace.” Baldwin and some other men come into the cell with a table, and Baldwin extends his hand. An African moves the table, and they argue over it. Another African throws it in a corner. Baldwin and Joadson set up the table, and an African talks to Joadson who says he does not understand him. Baldwin introduces Professor Gibbs (Austin Pendleton). Baldwin takes out a sword and asks the African if he has seen it before. In his own language he says that he could kill him with his bare hands before he could draw the sword. Baldwin asks if it belongs to him. Baldwin says he needs to know where they are from, and Gibbs tries to speak to them in an African language; but they can’t understand a word he says. They try to show them a map and point to Africa. Baldwin asks if they are from there or from the West Indies. They do not understand each other at all, and the Africans walk away.
The chained Africans are brought through a crowd into the building, and an African takes a Bible from a missionary.
In the courtroom Holabird is describing what happened in the rebellion on the ship. He says that Ruiz and Montes managed to steer them safely to a shore, or they never would have learned of this massacre. He sits down, and Baldwin stands up and talks about common sense. He says the case is about knowing the difference between here and there. He goes and pulls three chained Africans toward the judge. He smiles at one African who smiles back. Baldwin walks over to the other Africans and tells them to stand up in English and in Spanish. They do not understand until he demonstrates what to do. Holabird says slaves learn little Spanish.
The attorney representing Luis and Montez comes forward again with a bill of sale issued in Havana for the slaves, and he reads the names Jose, Bernardo, and Paco as examples. He submits the document on behalf of his clients. The judge asks Baldwin if he has anything but circumstantial evidence to support his case against this claim. Baldwin says he could manufacture something like they did, but the judge says this means he has nothing. Baldwin says he has the Africans, but that does not impress the judge.
As people are leaving, Joadson tells Baldwin that he thought he did well, but he may have forgotten that this is just a case. Cinque tries to talk to Baldwin through the window, but a soldier makes him leave.
Later in the prison Baldwin introduces himself to Cinque and says he will be his attorney. They shake hands as Cinque stares into his eyes. Baldwin says he needs to prove where he is from. Baldwin draws lines on the ground and says this is where he is from. He draws an island and says it is Cuba. He draws the ship Amistad. He does not think that Cuba is his home. He draws Africa and says he came all the way from there. Cinque walks away several steps and says he came from there.
At the harbor the Spanish ambassador is there with a companion. Baldwin hands a search warrant to a Spanish soldier and asks what the others want. The soldier says he informed them they needed a warrant. Baldwin asks Joadson if he is coming. Baldwin looks at a map while Joadson finds traces of blood where the slaves were chained. He finds a small piece of ivory. With a lamp he looks at the chains and shackles. He trips and falls, and the lamp goes out. He calls to Baldwin to light the lamp. Baldwin does so and asks if he is all right. Joadson gets up and goes up the ladder. Baldwin finds a leather wallet with papers.
In court Baldwin with the papers he found says at first he thought it was a list of the cargo; but it is the manifest of the notorious Portuguese slave ship the Tecora. He says he can corroborate this with witnesses. He says their clients are on the Ivory Coast of West Africa at Sierra Leone which is a British protectorate where slavery is illegal. He asks how they could engage in the slave trade there, and he says they did so illegally. He says his client’s journey did not begin in Havana but much farther away.
Outside the courthouse Tappan tells Baldwin that he under-estimated him, and he congratulates him. A man hits Baldwin on the head and runs off quickly. Baldwin asks if he is bleeding and asks what he did to deserve this. Joadson says he took the case, and he shakes his hand.
Queen Isabella is reading a letter aloud to her advisor, and he helps her with it. The letter praises the business of slavery and has her name at the bottom.
President Van Buren tells Forsyth and Leder that he will not bow before a prepubescent queen. Leder says they must understand what the case means. Forsyth says that John Calhoun told him that the case is much more important to the South than to the North. If the Africans are executed, the abolitionists will use it to make more converts. If the slaves are freed, Calhoun told him that the southerners would be so angry that Van Buren could forget about being re-elected. Van Buren smiles and asks if that would happen over this. Forsyth says that Calhoun believes this could be a step toward civil war. Forsyth says the juries seem inclined toward freeing them, but they can be dismissed. The President asks if they can, and Forsyth says they must remove the judge. Van Buren asks if they can do that. Forsyth says he could be made to recuse himself for various reasons, and he has found those they could use to replace him. He has found a young man who is insecure about his grandfather being a Catholic which Coglin has tried to keep quiet. Judge Coglin (Jeremy Northam) comes in and is introduced to the President.
Baldwin is angry and turns over his desk.
Adams is watering plants in his greenhouse and tells Joadson that he has been following the Amistad saga in the newspapers. He says the last chapter is bad luck, and asks what they will do now. Joadson says that is why he came to Massachusetts. Adams asks how the young lawyer took the news, and Joadson says he took it in stride. Joadson says he did everything right and proved his case. Adams says he will have to do it again; but Joadson says it does not matter now because the new judge was hand-picked by President Van Buren. He says he thought the judicial and executive branches were separate, but Adams says they are no more than these plants. Joadson asks Adams what he would do if he were handling the case. Adams is glad he is not. When he was an attorney a long time ago, he learned that in the courtroom whoever tells the best story wins. A black servant comes in, and Joadson starts to leave; but Adams asks him what their story is. Joadson comes back and says they came from West Africa. Adams wants the story. He asks Joadson where he is from, and he says Georgia. He asks if that is his story and says no. He is an ex-slave who has dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery over many hardships. He congratulates him and the young lawyer on proving that they are Africans; but what they don’t know is who they are.
In a classroom Professor Gibbs is teaching Baldwin and Joadson how to count from one to ten in Mende.
At the harbor Joadson and Baldwin try speaking Mende to blacks who do not understand them. The African Ensign Covey (Chiwetel Ejiofor) hears them and joins them for a discussion at a restaurant.
Cinque speaks to the imprisoned slaves in Mende after one has died. Ensign Covey tells Baldwin and Joadson that they want to bury him. Christians sing a hymn. Baldwin advises the warden to put protocol aside and let them bury them. He says he was thinking the same thing.
In the prison a table is brought in for Baldwin and Joadson. Ensign Covey tells Cinque in Mende his name and that he speaks English as well as Mende. He will translate for them. Covey says he was rescued off a slave ship by the British and never went back. Baldwin and he explain to Cinque that a problem has arisen because the judge who would have freed them has been dismissed. A new judge is going to hear the case without a jury. Cinque asks how a chief can be replaced, and Baldwin says he cannot explain it. Baldwin sits down near Cinque and tells him he is not a big man in his profession. He says he needs his help. In the trial he needs him to speak. Cinque says he cannot speak for the others, but Baldwin says that the others say he is the big man and can. Cinque says he is not. Baldwin asks if he killed a lion. Cinque stands up and walks to the open door and looks at the warden and walks back. He says it had killed several people, including hunters. He tells how he saw the lion and killed it with a big rock by some miracle. Cinque speaks to Joadson and says everyone in the villages thanked him and respected him as if he were a prince and gave him fine clothes. He says he took them off because he knew he did not deserve them. If the rock had missed, he would be dead. He asks Joadson if he understands. He is not a big man but a lucky one. Baldwin says he forgot about the other lion, the insurrection. Cinque says that was not bravery because any man would do the same. Joadson shows him the ivory, and Cinque grabs it and says it belonged to him. Baldwin says he needs him to tell them how he got there.
In a village some Africans put a net over Cinque and carry him away. His hands are tied behind his back at the beach. Many African prisoners come out of a castle and are taken to a ship. They are naked and are whipped and chained and placed close together in the hold.
Cinque carries a dead child and throws it overboard. Two Africans are being whipped. A woman with a baby jumps overboard. In the hold food is put in their outstretched hands. The Spaniards do not feed the weak who will die. A net full of rocks is thrown overboard, and the slaves chained to it are dragged off the ship and into the ocean.
At a Spanish port the Africans are being washed with soap. White men make bids to buy them. Ruiz and Montez have the Africans they bought put on to the Amistad and give them Spanish names.
At night the nail is removed, and Cinque removes a sword from a man’s body.
In court the Africans are dressed in white clothes. Covey translates as Cinque points to Ruiz and Montes and says he wanted to kill them too; but they convinced some of them that they could guide them home.
Judge Coglin recognized Holabird who says that is quite a tale of unspeakable suffering and courage, and it is all true. He asks if some tribes in Africa have owned slaves for hundreds of years. Cinque answers yes, and Holabird asks how one becomes a slave among the Mende. He says by wars and debts. Holabird asks how many men are indebted to Cinque. Baldwin objects that he is intimidating the witness, and Covey says that the Mende word for slave also means a worker. Holabird asks if the workers own the land. He says the concept is the same whether it is slavery or indentured servitude. Coglin lets him proceed. Holabird says his people don’t kill their own slaves because it is like burning down one’s own hut. Cinque says he does not understand him.
Baldwin asks Captain Fitzgerald (Peter Firth) his duty in the British navy. He says it is to patrol the Ivory Coast for slave ships because the British have banned slavery. He admits that it is not unusual for free men to be taken from Sierra Leone and to sell them as slaves. Baldwin asks if Cinque’s account is believable, and he says that his description of the slave quarters is accurate. Forsyth asks if he has seen it. Fitzgerald says they have not located it, but they have reports about it. Forsyth asks about the killing of slaves on the Tecora that Holabird described as a paradox, and he asks his opinion. Fitzgerald says when slavers believe they are going to be intercepted, they throw all the slaves overboard to destroy the evidence of their crimes. Holabird asks how slavery could be lucrative if they throw so many overboard, but Fitzgerald says it is very lucrative. Baldwin asks what corroborates Cinque’s story. Fitzgerald says that the inventory shows that on May 10 they reduced the number of slaves on board by fifty, and that they probably did that because they did not have enough provisions for all the slaves. Holabird says he does not find it in the inventory, but he does see that they reduced the weight of the cargo. Fitzgerald says it is a matter of simple arithmetic. Cinque has been becoming upset as he observes the trial, and he begins saying “Give us free.” Holabird asks the judge to instruct the defendant that he cannot disturb the proceedings. Cinque stands up and says it louder and louder.
In the jail Cinque is sitting quietly under a blanket. He tells the black Yamba (Razaaq Adoti) in a suit reading a book that he does not have to pretend to be interested in that. Yamba replies in his language that he is not pretending, and he is beginning to understand it.
In an empty church a man touches holy water and walks down the aisle.
Yamba is showing Cinque pictures in the book of Jesus and is explaining how he healed people with his hands and helped people. He even walked on the sea. He was captured, and Cinque asks what he did. Yamba shows how they killed him on a cross. Yamba says that was not the end of the story. They took his body down, wrapped it in a cloth, and put it in a cave. They thought he was dead, but he came back and talked to people. Then he rose into the sky. He says that is where the soul goes after death. Yamba says it does not look so bad.
The man praying in the church gets up, and walks out; it is Coglin.
Soldiers chain the African prisoners, and they walk with shackles through the street. Cinque and Yamba see Christians praying for them.
In court they rise for the judge, and Judge Coglin takes his seat. He says that after careful review he cannot deny the power of the government’s position. He says the Catholic queen and her minister Calderon have proceeded with faith in their case. He also believes that Ruiz and Montes may have misrepresented the origin of the prisoners which is a crucial issue. He asks if they were born in Africa, and he says that weighs heavily in this case. He believes they were, and therefore the Spanish monarch’s claims of ownership have no merit nor do those claims of salvage made by Meade and Gedney. He orders the immediate arrest of Ruiz and Montes by federal marshals on the charge of slave-trading as Spaniards complain. The two are handcuffed. Then he orders the conveyance of the prisoners by the government at its expense back to their homes in Africa. Baldwin, Joadson, Covey, and the Africans are very happy. The Africans chant.
At a formal dinner at a large table the Spanish ambassador Calderon tells President Van Buren that if he cannot rule the courts, he cannot rule; but the President says that any American can tell him that the independence of the courts is what keeps them free. John Calhoun (Arliss Howard) comes in, and the President welcomes him with a handshake. Calhoun sits down and tells Calderon that a growing number of people in this country consider the people in the South as beneath them; but they ignore the fact that slavery is so interwoven into their society that destroying it would destroy them as a people. The northerners say it is immoral, and so are the slave owners. Calhoun admits that southerners are inferior in the art of gain, and they are not as wealthy as the northerners. He says they are still struggling. If they lose their life’s blood, the North will become master of the South but not without a fight. Van Buren says Calhoun is being modest because he is not inferior at the art of exaggeration. Calhoun asks Calderon what court wants to be responsible for the spark that ignites the fire storm. What president wants to be in office when it comes crashing down? He asks Calderon not to judge them harshly because what they must determine is not whether the African race rises against their enemy but whether they must.
At night in a carriage Tappan tells Joadson that the news is bad, but he realizes they may be more valuable to their struggle in death than in life. Tappan believes that martyrdom is what brings the greatest change. Joadson says what is true is that some men’s hatred of slavery is greater than anything except for the slave himself. Tappan says if he wants to inspire hatred in a man, that is the way to speak to him. Joadson gets out of the carriage.
In the jail Africans are dancing, and Baldwin is let in. He tells Covey and Cinque that the President has appealed the decision to their Supreme Court. Cinque asks what that means, and Baldwin says they have to try the case again. Cinque says he was told there would be a judgment, and Baldwin tries to explain that the state court is different than the higher court. Baldwin admits he said it and says what he should have said was—but Covey says they have no word for “should.” Baldwin tries to explain what he meant. Cinque walks over to the bonfire and takes off his clothes. He asks Baldwin how he can live like that, and Joadson watches. Cinque shouts in Mende.
Baldwin is writing at his desk to John Quincy Adams and explains that they won the case, but it is being appealed to the Supreme Court which has seven of nine judges who are slave-holders. He says they need Adams and Cinque, the greatest man in irons.
Adams reads the letter and crumples it up.
Covey comes to Baldwin in his office and tells him that Cinque will not talk to him.
In a jail cell Baldwin is talking to Cinque in English without Covey. He uses visual aids to show him he could be hanged because of papers. Baldwin says he will sit there as along as it takes for him to acknowledge him. He sits back. Adams appears outside the cell and Baldwin and corrects his error in Roman history, saying Cicero appealed to Julius Caesar, not to Claudius who came much later. He asks to be let in the cell.
In a White House room Forsyth is talking about Adams with two other men. One says he will always be thought of as the son of a great father, and he asks if there is anything as pathetic as an ex-President. Van Buren walks by, and he tries to explain he was talking about Adams.
In the cell Covey is talking with Cinque.
Baldwin and Adams are working at a table, and Covey comes in and says Cinque wanted him to ask them about the question of jurisdiction. Because they took over the ship far out to in the ocean which nobody owns, how can the treaty between the United States and Spain apply. Adams says to tell him that the treaty does not recognize any jurisdictional limitations. Covey says he will asks him why, and Adams says because he said so.
Cinque talks to Covey.
Covey says Cinque wants to know how the treaty between Spain and America applies if he is the property of Ruiz and Montes. Adams says that “or their citizens” is included in the treaty, but he admits it is a good point.
Covey asks several questions about American treaties.
Adams tells a man to unshackle Cinque in his office and persuades the man to do it.
In his greenhouse Adams show his flowers to Cinque. He sees an African violet, and they touch the leaves. Adams says it was tough to get.
Adams in his office explains to Cinque with Covey that they are going to the Supreme Court. He asks if he knows why. Cinque says it is the place where they finally kill them. Adams says no, though it may be true too. Adams says there is a more important reason. He asks Cinque if he knows who Adams is, and Cinque says he is a chief. Adams says he was a chief, but Cinque says a chief cannot become less than a chief even in death. Adams wishes that were true. He says one tries to govern wisely to better the lives of those in the village. Unfortunately one is not always wise enough or strong enough. Time passes. He tells Cinque that they are about to bring his case before the highest court in their land which is like doing battle with a lion that is threatening to tear their country in two. All they have on their side is a rock. He says they have found themselves here by circumstances, and the world is watching. He asks what are they to do. Cinque asks if he is going to help because he has more questions than answers. Adams says he is being honest and is explaining that their test is very difficult. Cinque says they will not be alone. Adams says they have right on their side. Cinque says he will call into the past, to the beginning of time, and beg them to come and help him. He will draw them into him, and they must come. Now he is the whole reason they existed.
At the Supreme Court a justice pounds the gavel. Adams stands up and says that Baldwin has argued the case very well and that he has little he can add. He asks why they are there. He asks if they think the lower court made a mistake, or are they afraid of a great civil war. He says they have heaped symbolism on a case that never asked for it and would even have them disregard truth standing before them like a mountain. The truth has been driven from this case like a slave who is flogged from court to court. He says this is not because of the legal skill of the opposition but is by the long arm of the executive office. He says it is not a mere property case but is the most important case brought before this court because it concerns the very nature of man. Adams picks up transcriptions of letters between the Secretary of State and the Queen of Spain, and he asks them to consider them in their deliberations. He says the Queen objects to their incompetent courts. He says she wants a court that is like her court, a court that will do what it is told. Baldwin hands Adams a book that comes from the President called The Executive Review. He says an article by a “keen mind of the South,” which he thinks might be his former Vice President John Calhoun, asserts that there has never been a society in which one part did not thrive because of the labor of another. He writes that slavery has always existed and is neither sinful nor immoral. As war and antagonism are natural to man, so too slavery is inevitable. Adams says that he differs from this person and the President who shares his view because he believes that the natural state of the mind of man is freedom, though it is a controversial idea. The proof is that people will fight to regain it if it is taken. He says a man may break his chains or decimate his enemy. He will try against all odds to get home. He asks Cinque to stand up, and he does so. He says he is a black man, and he is the only true hero in the room. He says if he were white, he would not be fighting for his life in this court. If he were white and his enslavers were British, he would be heaped with honors and medals. Songs would be written about him, and his story would be told in classrooms. If the South is right, what are they to do with the Declaration of Independence that talks about all men being created equal and the rights of life and liberty. He asks what are they to do with it, and he rips up The Executive Review and tosses it on his table. He says he was talking with Cinque in his greenhouse, and he invoked his ancestors. They believe they can summon their ancestors because they never left, and they will come to his aid. Adams mentions Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and John Adams. Perhaps they have long resisted asking them for guidance because their individuality they revere so is not entirely their own. They may have feared that an appeal might be taken for weakness. They have come to understand that who we are is who we were. He says we need their wisdom and strength desperately. He asks them to give us the courage to do what is right. If it means civil war, then let it come. He asks that it may be finally the last battle of the American Revolution. He sits down and says that is all he has to say.
The Supreme Court has reconvened, and a justice reads the decision of the court which is that our treaty with Spain in 1795, upon which the prosecution primarily based its arguments, is inapplicable. They have not shown that these Africans fit the description of being cargo on a ship. Because they are not slaves, they cannot be considered merchandise. Rather they are individuals with certain legal and moral rights including the right to engage in insurrection against those who would deny them their freedom. Therefore the court judges that the defendants are to be released from custody, and, if they so choose, to be returned to their homes in Africa. The gavel comes down, and the shackles are removed from the hands of Cinque. Baldwin shakes hands with Adams who gets up and goes to Cinque. He asks Adams what words he said to them, and Adams replies, “Yours.” Cinque shakes his hand. Joadson offers his hand to Cinque who puts the piece of ivory in his hand and tells him to keep it. Cinque goes to Baldwin, and they shake hands slowly. They look in each other’s eyes and speak each other’s language.
British soldiers with rifles attack the Lomboko Slave Fortress and free the African prisoners. On a British ship Captain Fitzgerald orders the cannons to fire on the walls of the fortress.
President Van Buren is playing a harp and ringing a bell, and he was defeated in the next election.
Fitzgerald dictates a letter to Secretary of State John Forsyth stating that he is in fact correct that the Slave Fortress in Sierra Leone does not exist.
A ship is sailing with Africans dressed in white on board. Cinque looks at the sun.
Queen Isabella continued to argue over the Amistad case with seven more Presidents until 1864 when the Confederate Army was defeated at Atlanta.
Cinque returned to Sierra Leone and found his people fighting a civil war; his village had been destroyed, and his family was gone. He heard that they had been sold into slavery.
This historical drama accurately portrays a case that reveals the evil of the slave trade that had already been banned by the United States in 1808 while contrasting that oppression with the constitutional system of checks and balances for guiding government toward justice for all.