"Amistad Case as Revolution," Colored American, Oct. 5, 1839
From the Boston Courier
MR. BUCKINGHAM.--I thank you in the name of justice and humanity, for the course you have taken in relation to the affair of the Amistad. It is honorable to both your head and your heart. And by every friend of human rights, to whose knowledge it shall come, it will, I trust, be long borne in grateful remembrance.
On this subject, one might suppose there could scarce be two opinions, especially among men who profess to accept the doctrines of our Declaration of Independence, and to believe, with the fathers of our Revolution, that "resistance to tyrants is obedience to God." But they who have watched the practices of Americans, who are wont to glory in the "self evident truths" of the declaration and eulogize the doings of our Revolutionary fathers, must have long since observed, that between those practices and their professions, there is not unfrequently an awful disparity--that, indeed the one but too often gives "the lie direct" to the other. And to such, the course pursued in respect of this affair by some--shall I not say many--of your contemporaries of the corps editorial, will probably not be at all surprising, though characterized, as it is by a recklessness of all the principles of freedom, equalled only by its contempt of all the claims of humanity."
But, that your neighbor of the Advertiser and Patriot should take the course he has taken on this subject, this, it must be confessed, has surprised not a few, and among them some of that gentleman's best friends. They had expected better things of him. In an article in his paper of the 12th inst., headed "MUTINEERS of the Amistad," he attempts to show and chancellor Kent is quoted to aid this attempt--that the Africans on board that vessel, whom he demonates "PIRATES," also ought to be surrendered to the Spanish authorities; and asserts, that "this case is exactly analogous to that of Wilhelms and others, who murdered the captain of the Philadelphia brig." I can see no essential analogy whatever in the two cases. Had Williams and his associates been torn by men-stealers from their homes and their native land, brought to America, and purchased by the owner or super-cargo of the brig to be consigned by him to perpetual slavery, and did they rise and slay the captain and others as the only means of recovering that liberty to which they were entitled by the laws of nature and of nature's God,and which none, without perpetuating the most high-handed robbery, could take or withhold from them! If so, then is there some analogy between this case and that of the Amistad. If not, then there is none; and to assert the contrary, were an insult to a man's understanding.
Suppose, that an Algerine corsair had visited Boston, and fifty worthy Metropolitans had been kidnapped, hurried on board, taken to Algiers, and there sold to a Turkish dealer in Christian slaves; that they were shipped thence by the "owner" to Constantinople; that on the passage they killed the captain and several others, took command of the vessel, and in striving to reach the "city of notions [sic]," were driven upon the shores of old England; that their surrender was demanded by the Ottoman Porte; and that English editors, on hearing these facts pronounced these Bostonians to be a set of "mutineers" and "pirates," and urged their government to give them up, to be tried as such by the Sublime Porte. What, in such a case, would we Americans say of those editors? Let the same be said if we would maintain consistency of the editor of the Advertiser, and of all those who adopt this courage relative to the Amistad affair; for their "case is exactly analogous" to the supposed one of the British editors.
The editor of the Advertiser having, after the example of others laboring in the same cause, assumed, in the absence of all proof of the fact, and in the very face and eyes of all common sense, that these Africans are "mutineers" and "pirates," quotes from Chancellor Kent's Commentaries, to show, that they ought to be surrendered to the authorities of Spain. That extract from the Chancellor relates to refugees from Justice. It has, therefore, nothing to do with the case. It is utterly irrelevant to the editor of the Advertiser's purpose, and must ever remain so, at least until Cinquez and his comrades shall be proved to have perpetrated "crimes of great atrocity" in attempt to regain the liberty of which they had been robbed, in violation alike of the laws of God, and of those of every Christian nation, except Portugal; for the chancellor himself, in this very extract, tells, that the obligation of one government to surrender persons claimed by another as refugees from justice, "is understood in practice to apply only to crimes of great atrocity." But these Africans have committed no crime at all, except in the corrupt opinion of those, who would graduate human rights by the varying shades of complexion. By all others, their conduct, especially that of Cinquez, is deemed in the highest degree noble. The spirit that prompted Patrick Henry to exclaim on a memorable occasion,"Give me liberty, or give me death," that same spirit fired the bosom and nerved the arm of this daring yet generous African. Joseph Cinquez is more than a hero. He is, emphatically, one of God's noblemen. And by all the reasons and principles on which we eulogize George Washington and his brave compeers [word?], for resisting unto blood the attempts of Great Britain to subdue our people to political slavery, by all those principles and reasons, and by many others superadded, are we bound to laud Joseph Cinquez and his comrades, for resisting unto blood the miscreants that would doom them to personal slavery. And those little speeches delivered by the noble Cinquez to his companions on the deck of the Amistad, will be quoted, and the praises of their author will be sung, with a warmth of enthusiasm scarce equalled by all the most ardent friend of the red man ever felt as he read that thrilling speech attributed to Logan by Mr. Jefferson, by millions of freemen, long after those, and the writings of those, who dare stigmatize him as a "mutineer"and a "pirate," shall have sunk into oblivion.
Though these Africans had violated the laws of Spain, there is no law of nations, nor any acknowledged comity due from one nation to another, requiring for that reason alone, the surrender of them by our Government. Spanish laws might pronounce that to be a crime, which is in reality virtue. Suppose it were now, as it was formerly, lawful in Spain to put a man to death for speaking reproachfully of the mummeries of Catholicism, and one having done so, and fled for refuge to this country, were demanded by "the Spanish Minister or consul General": to be given up and returned to Spain "for trial." Ought this Protestant Government of ours to comply with the demand? None but a sworn enemy of our free institutions would pretend it had. Each nation, then, must be its own judge of what is criminal. And in the case under consideration, it will be the glorious privilege of a Connecticut jury to determine, whether Africans may do that which if done by Americans would be eminently praiseworthy, without being condemned as perpetrators of "crimes of great atrocity."
Assuming, like the editor of the Advertiser and others, these stolen Africans to be "pirates," the editor of the New York Evening Star, not long since, affected to be mightily horrified, in view of the sympathy manifested in their behalf, and charged those, who thus exercise this noble virtue, with endeavoring to do more for negroes, than would be done for white men in the same circumstances. Did Major Noah ever know any white men in the circumstances of these negroes? I presume not; for I know of no Christian nation that has engaged, as yet, in stealing white men by the cargo. But I feel very sure, that if, instead of negroes, these men were white citizens of the "Republic of Texas," Major Noah would not hesitate to say, that instead of receiving them as felons, incarcerating them, and trying them as "pirates" or murderers, or surrendering them to be so tried by their kidnappers, we would hail them as heroes, congratulate them on their fortunate escape from the clutches of those human hyenas, and convey them to their homes at the national expense.
The friends of the Africans, captured on board the Amistad, ask only that justice may be done; and that newspaper editors, and others, would learn to apply the "self-evident truths" of the Declaration, without reference to the color of a man's skin.