Amistad (1997) Script


That one wants us to sail them back.

That one thinks he can sail all the way back without us.

Yes. East. To the sun.

I understand. You can trust me.

To Africa.

Well, I have to tack, don't I? Tack. You'd rather I didn't.

You want to get there? I have to tack.

You're going to get us killed.

Yea, yea, yea, now go take a bath.

We have to signal them.

When the ship gets close, he'll run and hide. Then we both start yelling.

They'll search the ship.

Get ready.

Six Weeks



Carry on, Mr. Packwood!

Aye, aye, sir!

Straight ahead!

Fire over their heads!

Steady on.

Open the gate!

Come on, come on, come on!

Move along! Come on, let's go!

Move along!

Forward! Come on! Keep it going!

Come along! Get moving!

Don't stop there! Keep moving! Make way for the stinking heathens!

All right, move on.

Lock 'em up!

Gates! Gates! Gates!

Push 'em in!

Isabella II, Queen of Spain

Your Royal Highness.

Something's happened.

Thank you... Mr. President, sir.

The ambassador to Spain, Señor Calderon. Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States What? - Señor Calderon.

Yes, all right. Not now. Not now. Ambassador...

It appears to be a matter of certain importance, sir.

God bless!

I'm trying to drink my brandy after a very long day.

I understand. I simply wasn't certain whether this was something you wanted to take care of personally. Leder, there are, what, three, four million Negroes in this country?

Why on Earth should I concern myself with these 44?

Well, there are reasons.

I don't care how. You just take care of it.

The ship is the Amistad.

It's too small to be a transatlantic slaver.

So, they're plantation slaves, then? West Indians?

Not necessarily. At least they certainly don't look it.

Not from the glimpse I caught of them on their way to jail.

They have these scars.

Scars? Yeah.

They were first detained by officers of a survey brig off the coast of Long Island.

They were conveyed to New Haven, under what authority, I don't know, and given over to the local constabulary.

About 40 of them, including four or five children.

The arraignment is day after tomorrow.

I can only assume that the charge is murder.

I'll see what I can do about that.

Perhaps a writ for illegal arrest and detainment to stall things.

At the very least, make sure they have good counsel.


Chief! Chief!

He's not a chief.


Brother! Brother!

He's not your brother.

What is he then?

He's a white man.

Hear ye, hear ye.

In the matter of the district court of the United States of America in this, the year of our Lord, 1839, the honorable Andrew T. Juttson presiding.

If it please Your Honor.

The bench recognizes District Attorney Holabird.

I would like to present the court, Your Honor, with the charges of piracy and murder against the... Your Honor, I have a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Your Honor, I was speaking.

Yes, I know, Mr. Holabird. You were reading charges, which, whatever they might be, will be rendered moot by this writ.

That petition for a writ, Mr. Tappan, if, indeed, that's what it is, is moot unless and until an actual writ by some higher court, by some miracle, is granted.

Mr. Holabird is correct, Mr. Tappan.

And if you would, sir, while I know it is your custom, please, kindly refrain from impersonating a lawyer, which you patently are not.

As I was saying, Your Honor...

Your Honor.

Mr. Secretary.

Your Honor, I am here on behalf of the President of the United States, U.S. Secretary of State John Forsyth representing the claims of Her Majesty, Queen Isabella of Spain, as concerns our mutual treaty on the high seas of 1795.

You have my attention, sir. Thank you.

These slaves, Your Honor, are by rights the property of Spain, and as such, under Article 9 of said treaty are to be returned posthaste.

Said treaty taking precedence over all other claims and jurisdictions.

Them slaves belong to me and my mate, Your Majesty.

Your Honor, I have not yet read the...

Who be you two gentlemen?

"We, Thomas R. Gedney and Richard W. Meade, "whilst commissioned US Naval officers, "stand before this court as private citizens, "and do hereby claim salvage on the high seas

"of the Spanish ship La Amistad and all her cargo."

Here you go, sir. Your Honor...

You wish to make this claim above that of the Queen of Spain?

Where was she, pray, when we was fightin' the winds to bring this vessel in, Your... Honor.

Her Majesty, the Queen of Spain, was busy ruling a country.

Your Honor, these officers' claims are just...

Your Honor!

Here are the true owners of these slaves.

Order! Order in this court! On their behalf, I am in possession of a receipt for purchase executed in Havana, Cuba, June 26, 1839, I do hereby call upon this court to immediately surrender these goods

and that ship out there to my clients, Jose Ruiz... - Yo soy Ruiz.

"Yoso" Ruiz, and... Pedro Montes? Pedro Montes.

Mr. Tappan. How do you do, sir?

My name is Roger S. Baldwin, attorney-at-law.

Real estate attorney?

Real estate, inventories and other contestable assets, sir.

Can I help you with something?

Well, I don't know. What is it that you do?

Well, I own various businesses and banks.

Well, as a matter of fact, you probably could help me, Mr. Tappan.

But that's not why I'm here. You see, I'd like to help you.

Me? Yes. I deal with property, Mr. Tappan.

And sometimes I get people's property back for them, and other times I get it taken away, as in this case, which is clearly a property issue.

You see, all of the claims here, every single one of them, speaks to the issue of ownership.

Thank you very much, Mr. Baldwin. Baldwin, Roger S. Attorney-at-law.

But I'm afraid what's needed here is a criminal attorney.

A trial lawyer. But thanks for your interest.

Yes. Well, intending no disrespect, Mr. Tappan, but if that were the way to go, well, then, quite frankly, I wouldn't have bothered coming down here, would I have?

Goodbye. I bid you gentlemen a good afternoon.

In closing, I call upon our distinguished colleague from Massachusetts, Representative John Quincy Adams, to reweigh his unmeet and unprecedented attempt to convert this eccentric bequest of, let's be frank, a bunch of junk of one James Smithson, into a so-called institute of national treasure!

Perhaps Mr. Adams is meditating on his response.

Had I thought your remarks worthy of any kind of riposte, Representative Pickney, be assured you'd have heard from me hours ago.


Mr. Tappan. Lewis Tappan.


I must see him? I'm required to see him?

No, of course not, sir. He requests an audience.

Give me a hand.

He requests, does he?

Yeah. I don't know anyone called Tappan.

Yes, sir, you do. You've met him on countless occasions.

Where? Where is he?

He's right over there, sir. Right there, sir.

What is that?

Where? Right there, sir.

Lewis! Good to see you again!

And you, sir.

This is Theodore Joadson. How do you do, sir?

An honor to meet you, sir. Yeah.

Sir? Is there somewhere we could... What? Let's stroll in the garden.

This way, sir. What?

Let go of my arm. Over here.

I believe this case has great significance, sir.

Our Secretary of State has already deemed it worthy of his attention.

You don't have to shout. Stop shouting. No. Yes.

Well, he's supported the Queen of Spain in her claims that the Africans belong to her.

And then there are others making claims as well.

Two sailors... What season is it?

Pardon? I said, what season is it?

I don't understand what you mean.

There are two ways of knowing for certain without consulting a calendar.

The leaves on the maple trees have all gone and the fact that the President is not at home over there on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tell me, sir, you really think Van Buren cares about the whims of an 11-year-old girl who wears a tiara?

'Cause I can assure you, sir, having been over there, only one thing occupies his thoughts this time of the year, being all things to all people, which, of course, means be nothing to no one.

In other words, gettin' himself re-elected.

Give me a hand.

Will you help us, sir? Let go of my arm.

Take my stick.

Mr. Adams? Yeah, what?

As an advocate for the abolition of slavery, will you help us?

I'm neither friend nor foe of the abolitionist cause.

No, I won't help you.



I know you, Mr. President.

I know you and your presidency as well as any man and your father's.

You were a child at his side when he helped invent America.

And you, in turn, have devoted your life to refining that noble invention.

There remains but one task undone, one vital task the founding fathers left to their sons before their 13 colonies could precisely be called United States.

And that task, sir, as you well know, is crushing slavery.

Your record confirms you're an abolitionist, sir, even if you won't.

And whether or not you admit it... Mr. Joadson. belong with us.

You're quite the scholar, Mr. Joadson, aren't ya?

Quite the historian.

Let me tell you something about that quality, if I might.

Without an accompanying mastery of at least one-tenth its measure of grace, such erudition is worthless, sir.

Now, you take it from one who knows.

If you gentlemen will excuse me.

We know we aimed high coming to see you, sir, but...

Well, aim lower!

Find yourselves someone whose inspiration blossoms the more you lose.

If the court awards them to Spain, they'll be taken to Cuba and executed.

If the two lieutenants prevail, they'll most likely sell them to Spain and they'll be executed.

If Montes and Ruiz are successful in their campaign...

I'm a little confused by something. What are they worth to you?

We're discussing the case, not its expense.

The case, of course.

Well, the case is much simpler than you think, Mr. Tappan.

It's like anything, isn't it? Land, livestock, heirlooms, what have you.


Yes. Consider, the only way one may sell or purchase slaves is if they are born slaves, as on the plantation.

I'm right, aren't I? Yes.

So, are they? "Are they?"

Yes. Born slaves, as on a plantation.

No, we're not certain, but we very much doubt it.

Well, let's say they are, and if they are, then they are possessions, and no more deserving of a criminal trial than a bookcase or a plow.

Then we can all go home, can't we?

Now, on the other hand, let's say they aren't slaves.

If they aren't slaves, then they were illegally acquired, weren't they?

Forget mutiny, forget piracy, forget murder and all the rest.

Those are subsequent, irrelevant occurrences.

Ignore everything but the pre-eminent issue at hand.

The wrongful transfer of stolen goods.

Either way, we win. Sir, this war must be waged on the battlefield of righteousness.

The what?

It would be against everything I stand for to let this deteriorate into an exercise in the vagaries of legal minutia.

Well, I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Tappan, but I'm talking about the heart of the matter.

As am I.

It is our destiny as abolitionists and as Christians to save these people.

These are people, Mr. Baldwin.

Not livestock.

Did Christ hire a lawyer to get him off on technicalities?

He went to the cross, nobly. You know why?

To make a statement.

To make a statement, as must we.

But Christ lost.

You, I think... No, sir, he did not.

Or, at least you, Mr. Joadson, want to win, don't you?

Yes. I certainly do.

Hell, sometimes I don't get paid unless I do.

Which brings us back to the earlier question of worth.

Now, in order to do a better job than the attorney who represented the Son of God, I'll require $2.50 a day.

Who are they, do you think?

Looks like they're going to be sick.

They're entertainers.

...but why do they look so miserable?

You don't belong here.

Your table doesn't belong here.

This is Temne land.

How do you do, sir? How do you do?

You want to sit? Sit over here in Mendeland.

What are you doing, Temne?

You want trouble? Cross into our territory again.

What is this? Get this table out of here.

Let me show you to Sherbroland.


I'm sorry. I don't understand.

Excuse me. I...

My name is Roger Baldwin.

This is Theodore Joadson of the Anti-Slavery Society and owner of the Forten Shipping Service.

And this is Professor Gibbs, a linguist.

What do you want?

Keep talking. Get them to talk.

Have you seen this before?

I could kill you with my bare hands before you raise that sword shoulder high.

This belongs to you?

Does this...

No. No.

I need to know where you're from.

What did he say?

I didn't understand a word of it. It's gibberish.

He said, I think, "Show me the map." Yes.

What do you think? Is he here to help us? Or?

I don't know.

He reminds me of that Fula of Baoma, you know the one--

...who hires himself out to scrape elephant dung from the crop rows.

A dung-scraper might be just the kind of man we need right now.

Here, Africa, is this where you're from?


What does he want?

He's an idiot. He just likes to hear himself speak.

Were you born in the West Indies?

Were you born in the West Indies?

All three of them are idiots.

What did he say?

He said they have to go away.

There they are! Damnation is God's way!

You cannot own another human being!

Killers of white men! Slavery is tyranny!

Look, it's those miserable-looking people again.

God's blessing on you this morning.

I'm not afraid of you, or your medicine.

Yes. You place your hand on this book, and I'll pray for you.

They're human beings, not animals!

Slavery will kill this country!

Then, in the quietude of the night, after the Spaniards attended their vespers, and were deep in virtuous sleep, the savages broke loose their collars and stole onto the deck like creatures of prey, where they fell upon the unsuspecting crew with these sabers and cane knives.

I cannot overstate the inhumanity of their acts...

Have you figured out who he is?

...the savagery, the bloodshed.

An advisor of some kind. Maybe theirs.

Unsated by the mere deaths of their victims, they went on to mutilate at least one of them...

What about him? dismember him. The simple cook, a Creole.

Their own kind.

Theirs maybe.

But for the bravery of Señors Ruiz and Montes, who fought their way to the stern and steered the Amistad to these shores, under constant threat of like fate, we might never have heard of this massacre, this bloodbath.

But for their bravery, these villains most certainly would have escaped justice.

But they've not. They've not.

And Dung-Scraper?

I have a horrible feeling he talks for us.

Do you know the difference between a cow and a cabbage?

A brick and a bear?

Or how about a polecat and a President?

Well, the Spanish government hopes you don't have a whole lot more common sense than that.

And I'll tell you why.

This case isn't about murder, mayhem or massacres.

It's not about anything that dramatic.

This case is about knowing the difference between here and there.

I want to show you something.

Open your mouth.

Of course, he doesn't understand what I'm saying because he doesn't speak English.

Doesn't he understand that?

I thought he was born on a Cuban plantation.

That's what they're all saying.

Perhaps he simply just doesn't like you, Mr. Baldwin.

He wouldn't be the first, Mr. Holabird.


What, did he learn this on some Cuban plantation, this decorative effect?

Cuban plantation.

Stand up. Stand up.


Stand up.

Thank you.

Your Honor, I speak more Spanish, and I was born in Philadelphia.

Your Honor, on Spanish plantations, slaves always choose to live surrounded by their own ways and simple languages.

Pray tell, what need they know of Spanish? Fetch? Carry? Stop?

Ofttimes, gestures suffice for slaves, as, indeed, for any other beast of burden.

Your Honor.

I represent the interests of Señors Ruiz and Montes.

I remember.

I have a bill of sale issued in Havana for the purchase of slaves.

I remember that, too.

On it, in addition to the amounts paid for each, are their names.

Jose, Bernardo, Paco and so on.

On behalf of my clients, I submit this document to the court.

Mr. Baldwin, you've proffered to this court this morning a good deal of, I'll be kind, circumstantial evidence.

Have you, in addition, anything, say, in the order of actual documentation that might refute this one, and in so doing, more compellingly support your claims?

I'm sure I could manufacture some as easily as they have, Your Honor, if that would suffice.

But what you're saying is, then, you don't.

Is that correct?

I have them.

I'm afraid that does not impress me.

I thought you did quite well.

You do?

Much better than I expected, to be honest.

Well, thank you, I think.

Although, I was concerned for a moment that you might've forgotten that this is just a case like any other.

Well, you needn't worry about that.

That's good.

Hello, Cinque. My name is Roger Baldwin.

I'll be your attorney.

Yes. Thank you.

All right.

I need to prove where you're from.

You want to show them where we're from.

How are you supposed to tell me? I...

How can I explain to you where we're from?

Maybe, I -

Listen, why don't I... You go.

I'm sorry, you should talk first.

Here. This is where I'm from.

Here. This.

All of this. All of this is...

That's here. home.


Cuba. Cuba's an island.

The Amistad. This is where you...

Where everyone was killed. Here.

Cuba, the Amistad.

Now, Cuba, is this your home? I don't think so.

But... Excuse me.



This is your home, isn't it?

This is your home. Yes?

You came all the way from here.


This... Is how far I've come.

Secure the barrels for transport.

Put your backs into it, boys. Come on.

This is a court order granting us permission to board and search this vessel for evidential purposes.

What did they want?

To come aboard.

I informed them they needed to obtain one of these, an authentic one.

Aren't you coming?


The light. Light...

Light the lamp, Mr. Baldwin.

I'm trying.

Mr. Joadson!


You all right?


These papers, and I shall ask you to examine them, are portions of a ship's manifest I retrieved from the Amistad yesterday eve.

At first glance, perhaps, they may appear to bolster the prosecution's case.

You see, they list cargo, cargo bearing the very Spanish names that Messrs. Ruiz and Montes insist represent my clients, hand-scrawled in the margins.

But, no, this is not the manifest of the Amistad at all. Look.

This is part of the cargo manifest of a Portuguese vessel, the notorious transatlantic slave ship, the Tecora.

The Tecora.

And I can bring you as many witnesses as you wish, Mr. Holabird, to corroborate this. - Tecora.

Their clients trade primarily off the coast of West Africa, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone.

I know what you're thinking.

Sierra Leone is a protectorate of the British Crown.

Slavery is outlawed there.

Its principal port, in fact, has been rechristened "Freetown."

How then, can the Portuguese-flag-flying Tecora engage in the slave trades in these waters?

I'll tell you how, in a word.


Now, whatever these men say from this point on clearly matters not because this proves them liars.

My clients' journey did not begin in Havana, as they claim and keep claiming more and more emphatically.

No, my clients' journey

began much, much further away.

I underestimated you, sir!

I really did!

Well, I should take that as a compliment.

You should, indeed, sir. You should, indeed.

You've done it, I think.

I can't imagine there's no not reaching a favorable conclusion...

Hey! Hey!

Am I bleeding?

There's nothing there.

What did I do to deserve this?

You took the case, Mr. Baldwin.

You took the case, sir.

I should take that as a compliment.

"As you may perceive, "I wish you to act promptly before this matter of the Africans

"becomes a weight on our two countries."

"Great countries."

"Our great countries.

"After all, the business of great countries is to do business."

"Slavery is our pillar of commerce in the New World.

"Without it, our goodwill and excellent trade relations..."

"Should be imperiled." "Should be imperiled.

"Without it, we might have been denied the glory

"of aiding you in your virtuous rebellion against the British.

"As slave-owning nations, we must together stand firm.

"Speak the words of humaneness for the masses of your citizens, "but hold tightly to the power that protects them.

"That power, of course, is their wealth.

"The Africans must never go free.

"With sincerest admiration, "Isabella II, Queen of all of Spain."

I am not about to bend to the will of some pubescent queen.

Forget about them. They're unimportant.

Prepubescent. What you need to concern yourself with is what this matter means here, not an ocean away.

I wish someone would tell me what it means!

Leder, you yourself said it was meaningless.

Well, not anymore.

John Calhoun paid me a visit.

Oh, God.

To explain to me why this case is of much greater import, much greater symbolism, to use his word, to the South and the North.

Now, if the Africans are executed, the abolitionists will certainly make good use of it.

And, yes, they will make some converts.

If, on the other hand, they are freed, if that happens, Calhoun assures me the Southern states will so ally themselves against you, that you can forget about re-election.

Over this?

It's worse than that.

Worse? What could be worse than that?

Calhoun believes, and I am not sure I can entirely disagree with him, that this could take us all one long step closer to civil war.


Yes, Mr. President.

But all is not lost.

Yes, the jury appears disposed towards freeing them.

But juries can be dismissed.

They can?

But I believe we must go further and remove the judge.

We can do that?

He could be prevailed upon to recuse himself for any number of reasons.

And with that in mind, I've taken the liberty of exploring possible replacements, and I've found one I strongly believe to be better.

He's young, which means he has a career before him rather than behind, which means he has yet to feel the hankering for magnanimous last gestures for the sake of posterity.

And he is monumentally insecure, particularly about his Catholic heritage.

- He's Catholic? His grandfather was Catholic, which young Mr. Coglin has striven all his days to keep quiet.

Mr. President, meet Judge Coglin.

Judge Coglin, we are so pleased to meet you.

Thank you so much for coming.

I've been reading in the papers the continuing saga of the Amistad.

Real papers.

Real papers. Yes, sir.

Yes. Bad luck, this last unfolding chapter.

What to do now?

Which is precisely why I came to Massachusetts and imposed on you, sir.

No imposition, really.


How did that...

How did that young lawyer take the news?

In stride, sir. In stride.

The thing is, sir, he did everything right.

He proved the case. Did he?

Yes, sir. Surprisingly, he did.


Well, he'll just have to do it again, then, won't he?

But like most things, it should be easier the second time around.

Well, I'm afraid it doesn't matter what he does now, sir.

Rumor has it our next judge was handpicked by Van Buren himself.


Well, I'm embarrassed to admit that I was under the misconception that our executive and judicial branches were separate.

No more so than these, Mr. Joadson.

No more so than these.

So now you know.


Sir? Yeah?

Mr. President, if it was you handling the case...

But it isn't me. And thank God for that.

But if it was, sir, what would you do?

Well, when I was an attorney a long time ago, young man, I realized after much trial and error that in a courtroom whoever tells the best story wins.

In unlawyer-like fashion, I give you that scrap of wisdom free of charge.

I'm much obliged for your time, sir.

What is their story, by the way?


What is their story?

Why, they're...

They're from West Africa.

No. What is their story?

Mr. Joadson, you're from where originally?

Why, Georgia, sir.

Georgia. Yes, sir.

Does that pretty much sum up what you are?

A Georgian? Is that your story?

No. You're an ex-slave who's devoted his life to the abolition of slavery, and overcoming great obstacles and hardships along the way, I should imagine.

That's your story, isn't it?

You and this young so-called lawyer have proven you know what they are.

They're Africans. Congratulations.

What you don't know, and, as far as I can tell, haven't bothered in the least to discover is who they are.




Number nine.

And 10.

Now, how about you, Mr. Baldwin?

Would you like to count from one to 10?

One to 10 in Mende.





Right. Five.

Fresh fruit! Fresh fruit! Straight from the Caribbean!

What's happened here?

I don't know. One of them died last night.

We tried to take the body away to bury it.

Well, what do they want? They want to live with it?

They want to bury him.

They have to bury him according to their Poro beliefs.

Otherwise, his soul will haunt them forever.

If I were you, if I ran this place, I'd set protocol aside just this once and let them bury him.

I was thinking the same thing.

My name is Kai Nyagua -

My name is Kai Nyagua - and James Covey.

I speak Mende and English - his language.

You and he will talk to each other through me.

The clothes?

And the names.

I was rescued off a slave ship by the British Navy.

I never went back.

A problem has arisen.

The judge we had, who believed, I believe, that you should be freed, has been dismissed.

A new judge has been called upon to hear the case, this time without a jury.

How is that possible? A chief cannot be replaced.

I can't explain it in any way that you would understand, Cinque.

Or me, for that matter. Only that, well, it has happened.

I am not a great orator or advisor, Cinque.

I'm not a big man in my profession.

I don't know that I alone can convince this next judge to set you free.

I need your help.

When we go to court, I need you to speak.

I'm not an advisor of any kind.

I cannot speak for the others.

Cinque, the others, they say you can.

They say you're the big man here.

I am not.

What's this I hear about a lion?

They say you alone, alone, Cinque, slew the most terrifying beast anyone has ever seen.

Is it not true?

It had killed several people.

Even hunters among us.

Everyone, including me, was afraid.

I was lying down with my family when out of nowhere it appeared.

As it came for me, I picked up this big rock and I threw it.

And by some miracle, you see, I hit it.

He don't know how that killed it, but it did.

A rock.

A rock.

I received the gratitude of everyone in the village.

I was given respect.

They treated me as if I was a prince.

They gave me the fine country cloth.

All these things they gave me, I took them all.

But I knew I didn't deserve it.

For when I threw that rock at that beast if I had missed him...

He said he wouldn't be sitting here today trying to explain these things to you or me or...

He'd just be dead.


You understand?

I'm not a big man, just a lucky one.

I might agree with you, Cinque, except you're forgetting something.

The other lion.

The Amistad, Cinque. The insurrection.

That, too, was an accident? I hardly think so.

That wasn't bravery.

Any man would do the same to get back to his family.

You yourself would do it.

Someone said that might be yours.

My wife gave it to me.

To keep me safe.

Cinque, I need you to tell me how you got here.

I'll hit you in the head again if you talk.

I'll share the profit of my harvest. I'll give you all of it if you -

Lomboko Slave Fortress

This one's sick, don't give him any.


Not her.


Havana, Cuba


I wanted to kill them, too.

For they convinced some of us that they would take us back home.

Thank you, sir.

Mr. Holabird.

Quite a tale.

Intrigue, abduction, courage in the face of unspeakable suffering.

And all true. All right. Now tell me if this is true.

Certain tribes in Africa, for hundreds of years, thousands, perhaps, have owned slaves.



And under what circumstances might one become a slave, say, among the Mende, of which you claim to belong?


Wars, debts.

I see.

And how many men are indebted to you?

I don't think you do see. Excuse me?

Your Honor, Mr. Holabird... It's different. trying to intimidate my colleague.

The Mende word for "slave" is closer in meaning to "worker."

Do these workers own the land they work on?

Do they receive wages?

Are these workers free to not work for you, if they so choose?

Your Honor, he's questioning the translator.

No, the translator is answering for the witness, Your Honor.

The witness isn't being given a chance. Mr. Baldwin!

Fine, fine, Mr. Baldwin!

Slavery, indentured servitude.

Whatever they want to call it, I don't mind.

The concept is the same.

Now, he is familiar with the concept.

After all, when you come down to it, it's all about money, isn't it?

Slaves, production, money. I mean, that's the idea of it.

Whether it's here or there. I'm confused.

Do your people routinely slaughter their slaves in the manner that you just so vividly described to us?

Of course they don't. What would be the point of that?

I mean, killing your own slaves is rather like burning down your own house or hut, isn't it?

How do you explain that paradox?

I don't understand what you mean.

Sure you do. As does everyone here.

The behavior you attribute to your tormentors, your victims, to be more precise, and therefore every other aspect of your testimony, makes no sense.

Not even to you.

But thank you for it.

Like all good works of fiction, it was entertaining.

Nothing more.

Captain Fitzgerald, please explain to us your primary duties in Her Majesty's navy.

To patrol the Ivory Coast for slave ships.


Because slavery is banned in British law, sir.

Yet the abduction of free men from the British protectorate of Sierra Leone and their illegal transportation to the New World, as described by Cinque, is not unheard of, is it?

Not even unusual, regrettably.

Well, what, if anything, in his account of his ordeal do you find believable?

His description of the slave fortress, for one thing.

There is such a place.

You've seen it?

No, sir. We've not managed to locate it, but there is overwhelming evidence that it is real.

What evidence, exactly? Rumor?


By "reports" you mean of the variety Cinque shared with us today?

Its existence, sir, has been reported.

Cinque describes the cold-blooded murder of a significant portion of the people on board the Tecora.

Mr. Holabird sees this as a paradox. Do you, sir?

Often when slavers are intercepted, or believe they may be, they simply throw all their prisoners overboard and thereby rid themselves of the evidence of their crime.

Drown hundreds of people?


It hardly seems a lucrative business to me, this slave-trading.

Going to all that trouble rounding everybody up only to throw them overboard.

No, it's very lucrative.

If only we could corroborate Cinque's story somehow

with evidence of some kind.

The inventory.

This? From the Tecora?

If you look, there's a notation made on May 10 correcting the number of slaves on board, reducing their number by 50.

What does that mean?

Well, if you look at it in conjunction with Cinque's testimony, I would say that it means this.

The Tecora crew, having greatly underestimated the amount of provisions required for their journey, solved the problem by throwing 50 people overboard.

I'm looking at the same inventory, Captain, and I'm sorry, I don't see where it says, "This morning, we threw 50 slaves overboard."

On May 10 or any other day.

As of course you would not.

I do see that the cargo weight changed.

They reduced the poundage, I see, but that is all.

It's simple, ghastly arithmetic.

Well, for you, perhaps.

I may need a quill and parchment and a better imagination.

And what poundage do you imagine the entry may refer to, sir?

A mast and sails, perhaps?

Give us, us free.

Give us free.

Give us, us free.

Give us free.

Your Honor, please instruct the defendant that he cannot disrupt these proceedings with such outbursts.

Give us, us free!

If we are to have any semblance of order in this court, Your Honor...

Give us, us free! Give us, us free! He cannot keep crying out...

Cannot keep crying out, "Give us free," or anything else... Give us, us free!

...while I am trying to question this witness!

Give us, us free!

Give us, us free!

You don't have to pretend to be interested in that.

Nobody's watching but me.

I'm not pretending. I'm beginning to understand it.

Their people have suffered more than ours... Their lives were full of suffering.

Then he was born and everything changed.

Who is he?

I don't know, but everywhere he goes, he is followed by the sun.

Here he is healing people with his hands.

Protecting them...

Being given children...

What's this?

He could also walk across the sea.

But then something happened...

He was captured. Accused of some crime.

Here he is with his hands tied.

He must have done something.

Why? What did we do?

Whatever it was, it was serious enough to kill him for it.

Do you want to see how they killed him?

This is just a story, Yamba.

But look. That's not the end of it.

His people took his body down from this... thing... this...

They took him into a cave. They wrapped him in a cloth, like we do.

They thought he was dead, but he appeared before his people again... and spoke to them.

Then, finally, he rose into the sky.

This is where the soul goes when you die here.

This is where we're going when they kill us.

It doesn't look so bad.


Buakei... Hold your head up.

All rise.

After careful review and thorough reflection, I find it impossible to deny the power of the government's position.

There is no doubt in my mind that District Attorney Holabird, Her Catholic Majesty, Isabella of Spain, and her trusted minister, Señor Calderon, have all proceeded with the utmost faith in the soundness of their case.

I also believe that Señors Ruiz and Montes may have misrepresented the origin of the prisoners.

An issue which weighs crucially upon their fate, and that of the Spaniards as well.

Were they born in Africa?

But since the answer to that fundamental question shall so heavily govern every determination of this court, I ask it again.

Were they born in Africa?

I believe they were.

As such, Her Catholic Majesty's claims of ownership have no merit.

Neither, of course, do those for salvage made by Lieutenants Meade and Gedney.

This is outrageous!

I hereby order the immediate arrest and detention of Señors Ruiz and Montes

by federal marshals on the charge of slave-trading!


The release of the Africans and their conveyance, by this government at her earliest convenience and expense, back to their homes in Africa!


We've done it, Joadson! We've done it! Yes!

Covey, tell them! Tell them now! I think they know.

Look at 'em.

What's most bewildering to Her Majesty is this arrogant independence of the American courts.

After all, if you cannot rule the courts, you cannot rule.

Señor Calderon, as any true American will tell you, it's the independence of our courts that keeps us free.

John, glad you're here.

Mr. Forsyth. The President...

Mr. President? Senator Calhoun is here.


I was afraid you weren't going to be able to join us.

You may put that fear to rest, Mr. President.

Thank you. Please.

I'd like you to meet Señor Calderon, ambassador from Spain.

I thought you said he wasn't coming.

He said he wasn't.

You see, Señor Calderon, there's a growing number of people in this part of the country that regard us in the South as not only geographically beneath them.

They ignore the fact that slavery is so interwoven into the fabric of this society, that to destroy it would be to destroy us as a people.

It's immoral. That's all they know.

Therefore, so are we.

Immoral and inferior.

We are inferior in one area.

We're not as proficient in the art of gain.

We're not as wealthy as our northern neighbors.

We're still struggling.

Take away our life's blood now...

Well, we all know what happens then, North and South.

They become the masters, and we the slaves.

But not without a fight.

Senator Calhoun is being modest.

He's not inferior in another area. The art of exaggeration.

Ask yourself, Señor Calderon, what court wants to be responsible for the spark that ignites the firestorm?

What President wants to be in office when it comes crashing down around him?

Certainly no court before this one.

Certainly no President before this one.

So, judge us not too harshly, sir, and bid Her Majesty like, because the real determination our courts and our President must make is not whether this ragtag group of Africans raised swords against their enemy, but rather, must we?

Come along, Mr. Joadson.

This news...

Well, of course, it's bad news, but the truth is they may be more valuable to our struggle in death than in life.

Martyrdom, Mr. Joadson.

From the dawn of Christianity, we have seen no stronger power for change.

Well, you know it's true.

What is true, Mr. Tappan, and believe me when I tell you I've seen this, is that there are some men whose hatred of slavery is stronger than anything except for the slave himself.

If you wish to inspire such hatred in a man, Mr. Joadson, speak to him in that fashion and it may come true.

Our President, our big, big man, has appealed the decision to our Supreme Court.

What does that mean?

We have to try the case again.

Now, I know it's hard to understand, Cinque.

I don't understand, for that matter.

You said there would be a judgment, and if we won the judgment we would go free!

No, no. What I said is that we won it at the state level.

No, no, no. That's what you said!

What I said, that if we won it at the state level, we then go on.

That's what you said!

That's what you said. All right, yeah. Yes, I said it!

I said it, but I shouldn't have. What I should've said...

I can't translate that. You can't translate what?

I can't translate "should."

You saying there's no word in Mende for "should"?

No. Either you do something, or you don't do it.

What I meant to say... What I meant to say?

Not in the way you mean it.

Try and understand me.

"Meant" is the same as "should." You're misunderstanding the language.

Cinque, Cinque. Cinque!

Listen to me. Listen to me. Understand what I'm saying.

What I said to you before the judgment...

What I said to you before the judgment is almost how it works here.



Yes, Cinque. But not always.

Yes. And that's what's happened.

What kind of place is this?

Where you almost mean what you say? Where laws almost work?

How can you live like that?

"To His Excellency, John Quincy Adams, "Massachusetts member, House of Representatives.

"I have understood from Mr. Joadson

"that you are acquainted with the plight of the Amistad Africans.

"If that is true, then you are aware that we have been, "at every step, successful in our presentation of their case.

"Yet despite this, "and despite the unlikelihood of President Van Buren's re-election, "he has appealed our most recent favorable decision

"to the highest court in the land.

"As I'm sure you are well aware, "seven of nine of these Supreme Court justices

"are themselves Southern slave owners.

"Sir, we need you.

"If ever there was a time for a man to cast aside his daily trappings

"and array himself for battle, that time has come."

Thank you.

"Cicero once said, appealing to Claudius in defense of the Republic, "that the whole result of this entire war

"depends on the life of one most brave and excellent man.

"In our time, in this instance, I believe it depends on two.

"A courageous man, at present in irons in New Haven, named Cinque, "and you, sir.

"Sincerely, Roger S. Baldwin, attorney-at-law."

Mr. Tippings, excuse me a moment, please.

Any word from Mr. Adams? What did Cinque say?

He won't talk to you.

He won't talk to me?


How's your English coming?

No better than my Mende, I suppose.

You know, Cinque, I realize this isn't something you necessarily want to think about, but has it occurred to you that I'm all you've got?

Because as it happens, since my practice has completely deteriorated in the past months, you're all I've got.

See, this is me. You see?

You see? You see how this works?

And this here, Cinque, is for me.

More death threats.

Some of them signed. By my own clients, no less.

I should say former clients, shouldn't I?

There is one more consequence to having no clientele to speak of.

I am now free to sit here as long as it takes for you to acknowledge me.

Yes, you understood that word, didn't you? "Free."

All right.

Then we'll just sit.


Cicero's appeal was to Julius Caesar, not Claudius.

Claudius would not be born for another hundred years.

You were right, there was one of them.

Is that him?

Yes, Mr. President.

Please unlock this door.

Adams has flirted with the abolitionists for 15 years, but has yet to take one home from the dance.

How old is he anyway?

Old enough to know he's too old to take anyone home from the dance.

I hear he sleeps through three-quarters of the sessions on the Hill.

Let's see. President, slumbering congressman from Massachusetts, jail-house lawyer, one waits with great anticipation for what's next.

Well, what must that be like? What?

Knowing all your life, whatever your accomplishments, you'll only be remembered as the son of a great father.

The only thing John Quincy Adams will be remembered for is his middle name.

I wonder, is there anything as pathetic as an ex-President?

I was talking about John...

Sir. Yes?

Cinque has asked me to ask you whether you have thought about the question of jurisdiction.


That since they took over the ship far out to sea, and since neither Spain nor America owns the sea, how is it that the treaty applies?

Tell him the treaty recognizes no jurisdictional limitations.

Well? He will ask me why.

Because I said so.

Excuse me, sir.


Cinque would like to know that if he is the legal property of Ruiz and Montes, then how does the treaty apply, since it is between America and Spain?

Or their citizens.

"Or their citizens" is included in the language, if he must know.

Thank you, sir.

It's a good point, though.

Does Great Britain have any treaties with West Africa which may override those between Spain and America?


Does Great Britain have any treaties with America which might override those between Spain and...


Does the American government have any treaties with West Africa?


Does Spain have any treaties with West Africa?


Does the Commonwealth of Connecticut have any treaties with West Africa?

No, no, no, no! Now stop this!

Unshackle him.

I'm sorry, sir. I'm under strict orders to ensure the...

Unshackle him, please.

Yes, Mr. President.

This is a Phalaenopsis, moth orchid, I brought over from China.

And this is a primrose from an English garden.

And this spear lily, from the south of France.

This is my rose, Blush Noisette.

This came all the way from Washington DC, but don't tell anyone.

Go on, go on.

African violet. I can't tell you how difficult that was to come by.

Now, you understand you're going to the Supreme Court.

Do you know why?

It is the place where they finally kill us.

No. Well, yes, that may be true, too.

That's not what I meant.

No, there is another reason and a more important reason.

Although, I'll admit that perhaps more so to us than you.

All right, don't... Yeah.


Do you know who I am? Has anyone told you about me?


What have they told you?

That you are a chief.

I was a chief, yes.

A chief cannot become anything less than a chief, even in death.

How I wish such were true here, Cinque.

You've no idea.

One tries to govern wisely, strongly, but...

One tries to govern in a way that betters the lives of one's villagers.

One tries to kill the lion.

Unfortunately, one isn't always wise enough or strong enough.

Time passes and the moment is gone.

Now, listen, Cinque. Listen.

We're about to bring your case before the highest court in our land.

We're about to do battle with a lion that is threatening to rip our country in two.

And all we have on our side is a rock.

Of course, you didn't ask to be at the center of this historic conflagration any more than I did, but we find ourselves here nonetheless by some mysterious mix of circumstances and all the world watching.

So, what are we to do?

Is he going to help? He has far many more questions than answers.

What'd he just say? Sorry. I didn't catch it.

Cinque, look. I'm being honest with you.

Anything less would be disrespectful.

I'm telling you, I'm preparing you, I suppose I'm explaining to you that the test ahead of us is an exceptionally difficult one.

We won't be going in there alone.

Alone? Indeed not. No. We have right at our side.

We have righteousness at our side.

We have Mr. Baldwin over there.

I meant my ancestors.

I will call into the past,

far back to the beginning of time, and beg them to come and help me at the judgment.

I will reach back and draw them into me.

And they must come, for at this moment, I am the whole reason they have existed at all.

Thank you.

Your Honors,

I derive much consolation from the fact that my colleague, Mr. Baldwin here, has argued the case in so able and so complete a manner

as to leave me scarcely anything to say.

However, why are we here?

How is it that a simple, plain property issue should now find itself so ennobled as to be argued before the Supreme Court of the United States of America?

I mean, do we fear the lower courts, which found for us easily, somehow missed the truth? Is that it?

Or is it, rather, our great and consuming fear of civil war that has allowed us to heap symbolism upon a simple case that never asked for it?

And now would have us disregard truth even as it stands before us, tall and proud as a mountain.

The truth, in truth, has been driven from this case like a slave, flogged from court to court, wretched and destitute.

And not by any great legal acumen on the part of the opposition, I might add.

But through the long, powerful arm of the executive office.

Yea, this is no mere property case. Gentlemen, I put it to you thus.

This is the most important case ever to come before this court.

Because what it in fact concerns is the very nature of man.

These are...

These are transcriptions of letters written between our Secretary of State, John Forsyth, and the Queen of Spain, Isabella II.

Now, I ask that you accept their perusal as part of your deliberations.

Thank you, sir.

I would not touch on them now except to notice a curious phrase which is much repeated.

The Queen again and again refers to our "incompetent courts."

Now what, I wonder, would be more to her liking?

A court that finds against the Africans?

Well, I think not.

And here is the fine point of it.

What Her Majesty wants is a court that behaves just like her courts, the courts this 11-year-old child plays with in her magical kingdom called Spain.

A court that will do what it is told.

A court that can be toyed with like a doll.

A court, as it happens, of which our own President, Martin Van Buren, would be most proud.

Thank you.

This is a publication of the office of the President.

It's called The Executive Review, and I'm sure you all read it.

At least I'm sure the President hopes you all read it.

This is a recent issue, and there's an article in here written by "a keen mind of the South," who...

My former Vice President, John Calhoun, perhaps.

Could it be?

Who asserts that "there has never existed a civilized society

"in which one segment did not thrive upon the labor of another.

"As far back as one chooses to look, "to ancient times, to biblical times, "history bears this out.

"In Eden, where only two were created, "even there, one was pronounced subordinate to the other.

"Slavery has always been with us and is neither sinful nor immoral.

"Rather, as war and antagonism are the natural states of man, "so, too, slavery, as natural as it is inevitable."

Well, gentlemen, I must say I differ with the keen minds of the South and with our President, who apparently shares their views, offering that the natural state of mankind is instead, and I know this is a controversial idea, is freedom.

Is freedom.

And the proof is the length to which a man, woman or child will go to regain it, once taken.

He will break loose his chains.

He will decimate his enemies.

He will try and try and try, against all odds, against all prejudices, to get home.

Cinque, would you stand up, if you would, so everyone can see you.

This man is black. We can all see that.

But can we also see as easily that which is equally true?

That he is the only true hero in this room.

Now, if he were white, he wouldn't be standing before this court, fighting for his life.

If he were white and his enslavers were British, he wouldn't be able to stand, so heavy the weight of the medals and honors we would bestow upon him.

Songs would be written about him.

The great authors of our times would fill books about him.

His story would be told and retold in our classrooms.

Our children, because we would make sure of it, would know his name as well as they know Patrick Henry's.

Yet, if the South is right, what are we to do with that embarrassing, annoying document, the Declaration of Independence?

What of its conceits?

"All men created equal," "inalienable rights,"

"life, liberty," and so on and so forth?

What on Earth are we to do with this?

I have a modest suggestion.

The other night I was talking with my friend Cinque.

He was over at my place, and we were out in the greenhouse together.

And he was explaining to me how when a member of the Mende, that's his people...

How when a member of the Mende encounters a situation where there appears no hope at all, he invokes his ancestors.


See, the Mende believe that if one can summon the spirit of one's ancestors, then they have never left, and the wisdom and strength they fathered and inspired will come to his aid.

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson,

George Washington,

John Adams.

We have long resisted asking you for guidance.

Perhaps we have feared in doing so, we might acknowledge that our individuality, which we so, so revere, is not entirely our own.

Perhaps we've feared an appeal to you might be taken for weakness.

But we've come to understand, finally, that this is not so.

We understand now, we've been made to understand and to embrace the understanding

that who we are is who we were.

We desperately need your strength and wisdom to triumph over our fears, our prejudices, ourselves.

Give us the courage to do what is right.

And if it means civil war, then let it come.

And when it does, may it be, finally, the last battle of the American Revolution.

That's all I have to say.

In the case of The United States of America v. The Amistad Africans, it is the opinion of this court that our treaty of 1795 with Spain, on which the prosecution has primarily based its arguments, is inapplicable.

While it is clearly stipulated in Article 9 that, and I quote, seized ships and cargo are to be returned entirely to their proprietary, the end of quote, it has not been shown to the court's satisfaction that these particular Africans fit that description.

We are then left with the alternative, that they are not slaves and therefore cannot be considered merchandise but are, rather, free individuals with certain legal and moral rights, including the right to engage in insurrection against those who would deny them their freedom.

And therefore, over one dissent, it is the court's judgment that the defendants are to be released from custody at once and, if they so choose, to be returned to their homes in Africa.

Good job.

Thank you.


What did you say to them?

What words did you use to persuade them?


To keep you safe.

Thank you, Baldwin.

The Liberation of Lomboko Slave Fortress


Let's get a move on! Lively now!

All clear, sir.

Fire. Fire!

Fire. Fire!




William Henry Harrison defeated Martin Van Buren to become the ninth President of the United States.

Take a letter, Ensign.

To His Honor, the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Forsyth.

"My dear Mr. Forsyth, "it is my great pleasure to inform you that you are, in fact, correct.

"The slave fortress in Sierra Leone does not exist."

Queen Isabella of Spain continued to argue the Amistad matter with seven more American Presidents.

In 1864, her hopes of "compensation" finally collapsed with the Confederate Army's defeat at Atlanta.

Cinque returned to Sierra Leone to find his own people engaged in civil war.

His village was destroyed and his family gone.

It is believed they were sold into slavery.