Mar 09 2011

On This Day in History March 9

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 9 is the 68th day of the year (69th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 297 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1841, the US Supreme Court rules on Amistad mutiny

At the end of a historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules, with only one dissent, that the African slaves who seized control of the Amistad slave ship had been illegally forced into slavery, and thus are free under American law.

The Amistad, also known as United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. (15 Pet.) 518 (1841), was a United States Supreme Court case resulting from the rebellion of slaves on board the Spanish schooner Amistad in 1839. It was an unusual “freedom suit“, as it involved international issues and parties, as well as United States law.

The rebellion broke out when the schooner, traveling along the coast of Cuba, was taken over by a group of captives who had earlier been kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery. The Africans were later apprehended on the vessel near Long Island, New York, by the United States Revenue Cutter Service and taken into custody. The ensuing, widely publicized court cases in the United States helped the abolitionist movement.

In 1840, a federal trial court found that the initial transport of the Africans across the Atlantic (which did not involve the Amistad) had been illegal, because the international slave trade had been abolished, and the captives were thus not legally slaves but free. Given that they were illegally confined, the Africans were entitled to take whatever legal measures necessary to secure their freedom, including the use of force. After the US Supreme Court affirmed this finding on March 9, 1841, supporters arranged transportation for the Africans back to Africa in 1842. The case influenced numerous succeeding laws in the United States.

Arguments before the Supreme Court

On February 23, 1841, Attorney General Henry D. Gilpin began the oral argument phase before the Supreme Court. Gilpin first entered into evidence the papers of La Amistad which stated that the Africans were Spanish property. The documents being in order, Gilpin argued that the Court had no authority to rule against their validity. Gilpin contended that if the Africans were slaves (as evidenced by the documents), then they must be returned to their rightful owner, in this case, the Spanish government. Gilpin’s argument lasted two hours.

John Quincy Adams, former President of the United States and at that time a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, had agreed to argue for the Africans, but when it was time for him to argue, felt ill-prepared. Roger Sherman Baldwin, who had already represented the captives in the lower cases, opened in his place.

Baldwin, a prominent attorney (who was no relation to Justice Baldwin, the lone dissenter on the Court) contended that the Spanish government was attempting to manipulate the Court to return “fugitives”. In actuality, Baldwin argued, the Spanish government sought the return of slaves, who had been freed by the District Court, a fact that the Spanish government was not appealing. Covering all the facts of the case, Baldwin spoke for four hours over the course of the 22nd and the 23rd.

John Quincy Adams rose to speak on February 24. First, he reminded the court that it was a part of the judicial branch, and not part of the executive. Adams introduced correspondence between the Spanish government and the Secretary of State, criticizing President Martin van Buren for his assumption of unconstitutional powers in the case.

   This review of all the proceedings of the Executive I have made with utmost pain, because it was necessary to bring it fully before your Honors, to show that the course of that department had been dictated, throughout, not by justice but by sympathy – and a sympathy the most partial and injust. And this sympathy prevailed to such a degree, among all the persons concerned in this business, as to have perverted their minds with regard to all the most sacred principles of law and right, on which the liberties of the United States are founded; and a course was pursued, from the beginning to the end, which was not only an outrage upon the persons whose lives and liberties were at stake, but hostile to the power and independence of the judiciary itself.

Adams argued that neither Pinckney’s Treaty nor the Adams-Onis Treaty were applicable to the case. Article IX of Pinckney’s Treaty referred only to property, and did not apply to people. As to The Antelope decision (10 Wheat. 124), which recognized “that possession on board of a vessel was evidence of property”, Adams said that did not apply either, since the precedent there was established prior to the prohibition of the foreign slave trade in the United States. Adams concluded after eight and one-half hours of speaking on March 1 (the Court had taken a recess following the death of Associate Justice Barbour).

Attorney General Gilpin concluded oral argument with a three-hour rebuttal on March 2. The Court retired to consider the case.

Decision of the Supreme Court

On March 9, Associate Justice Joseph Story delivered the Court’s decision. Article IX of Pinckney’s Treaty was ruled off topic since the Africans in question were never legal property. They were not criminals, as the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued, but rather “unlawfully kidnapped, and forcibly and wrongfully carried on board a certain vessel”. The documents submitted by Attorney General Gilpin were not evidence of property, but rather of fraud on the part of the Spanish government. Lt. Gedney and the USS Washington were to be awarded salvage from the vessel for having performed “a highly meritorious and useful service to the proprietors of the ship and cargo”.

When La Amistad came into Long Island, however, the Court believed it to be in the possession of the Africans on board, who had no intent to become slaves. Therefore, the Adams-Onis Treaty did not apply, and the President was not required to return the slaves to Africa.

Upon the whole, our opinion is, that the decree of the circuit court, affirming that of the district court, ought to be affirmed, except so far as it directs the negroes to be delivered to the president, to be transported to Africa, in pursuance of the act of the 3rd of March 1819; and as to this, it ought to be reversed: and that the said negroes be declared to be free, and be dismissed from the custody of the court, and go without delay.

 141 BC – Liu Che, posthumously known as Emperor Wu of Han, assumes the throne over the Han Dynasty of China.

1009 – First known mention of Lithuania, in the annals of the monastery of Quedlinburg.

1276 – Augsburg becomes an Imperial Free City.

1500 – The fleet of Pedro Alvares Cabral leaves Lisbon for the Indies. The fleet will discover Brazil which lies within boundaries granted to Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas.

1566 – David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots, is murdered in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland.

1765 – After a campaign by the writer Voltaire, judges in Paris posthumously exonerate Jean Calas of murdering his son. Calas had been tortured and executed in 1762 on the charge, though his son may have actually committed suicide.

1796 – Napoleon Bonaparte marries his first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais.

1811 – Paraguayan forces defeat Manuel Belgrano at the Battle of Tacuari.

1841 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules that captive Africans who had seized control of the ship carrying them had been taken into slavery illegally.

1842 – Giuseppe Verdi’s third opera, Nabucco, receives its premiere performance in Milan; its success establishes Verdi as one of Italy’s foremost opera writers.

1842 – The first documented discovery of gold in California occurs at Rancho San Francisco, six years before the California Gold Rush.

1847 – Mexican-American War: The first large-scale amphibious assault in U.S. history is launched in the Siege of Veracruz.

1862 – American Civil War: The USS Monitor and CSS Virginia fight to a draw in the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first battle between two ironclad warships.

1896 – Prime Minister Francesco Crispi resigns following the Italian defeat at the Battle of Adowa.

1910 – The Westmoreland County Coal Strike, involving 15,000 coal miners represented by the United Mine Workers, begins.

1916 – Pancho Villa leads nearly 500 Mexican raiders in an attack against Columbus, New Mexico.

1925 – Pink’s War: The first Royal Air Force operation conducted independently of the British Army or Royal Navy begins.

1933 – Great Depression: President Franklin D. Roosevelt submits the Emergency Banking Act to Congress, the first of his New Deal policies.

1944 – World War II: Japanese troops counter-attack American forces on Hill 700 in Bougainville in a battle that would last five days.

1944 – The Soviet Air Forces conduct heaving bombing on Tallinn, Estonia, killing up to 800 people, mostly civilians.

1946 – Bolton Wanderers stadium disaster at Burnden Park, Bolton, England, 33 killed and hundreds amongst the injured

1954 – McCarthyism: CBS television broadcasts the See It Now episode, “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy”, produced by Fred Friendly.

1956 – Soviet military suppresses a mass demonstrations in the Georgian SSR, reacting to Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization policy.

1957 – A magnitude 8.3 earthquake in the Andreanof Islands, Alaska triggers a Pacific-wide tsunami causing extensive damage to Hawaii and Oahu.

1959 – The Barbie doll makes its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York.

1960 – Dr. Belding Hibbard Scribner implants for the first time a shunt he invented into a patient, which allows the patient to receive hemodialysis on a regular basis.

1961 – Sputnik 9 successfully launches, carrying a human dummy nicknamed Ivan Ivanovich, and demonstrating that Soviet Union was ready to begin human spaceflight.

1977 – The Hanafi Muslim Siege: In a thirty-nine hour standoff, armed Hanafi Muslims seize three Washington, D.C., buildings, killing two and taking 149 hostage.

1989 – Financially-troubled Eastern Air Lines filed for bankruptcy.

1990 – Dr. Antonia Novello is sworn in as Surgeon General of the United States, becoming the first female and Hispanic American to serve in that position.

1991 – Massive demonstrations are held against Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. Two people are killed and tanks are deployed in the streets.

1997 – Comet Hale-Bopp: Observers in China, Mongolia and eastern Siberia are treated to a rare double feature as an eclipse permits Hale-Bopp to be seen during the day.

2010 – The first same-sex marriages in Washington, D.C., take place.

Holidays and observances

   * Baron Bliss Day (Belize)

   * Christian Feast Day

         o Catherine of Bologna

         o Forty Martyrs of Sebaste

         o Frances of Rome

         o Gregory of Nyssa

         o Pacian

   * Teacher’s Day or Eid Al Moalim  (Lebanon)

1 comment

  1. TMC

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