The Amistad Essay, Research Paper
Property vs. Morality
The dispute arising over the Amistad can be looked at in two ways; in terms of property or in terms of morality. Property is a simple concept which most people can understand. Property is considered a tangible object that is owned or in possesion of another person. Examples of property include furniture, livestock and at one piont in history human beings. Morality on the other hand is not nearly as simple an idea as property. Morals often depend on an individuals on beliefs or code of ethics but there is a generally accepted code of right and wrong. An example of an accepted wrong is the supression of rights of another induvidual. An accepted right is for that person who is being opressed to do anything in their power to end that opression. The Amistad controversey took into account both arguments about property and morality. Were the slaves found off the coast of Massachusetts slaves or the property of somone? If so they would be returned to their Spanish owners or those naval officers who had recovered them. If not, came the difficult moral question. Were these Africans considered human and thus born with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? If not they were guilty of killing their Spanish captors and subject to the death penalty. If the Amistad Africans are considered human then they had every right to slay their abductors and deserve to be taken back to their home as soon as possible. The simple answer to the Amistad controversey was to address it in terms of property but the right way to look at the situation was from a moral viewpiont. And it was looking at it in terms of right and wrong that forced a country to answer the question of slavery that had plagued America from its beginning and would not end with the Amistad.
There were many different philosophies on the idea of property especially concerning slavery in the mid 1800 s. Contrasting the Spanish or Portugese and African ideas can show two of these very different schools of thought. In Africa, property was defined totally different then in Europe, Asia and other different places. The societies of the time did not emphasize the induvidual, the greater collective being more important to the sucess of the tribe, hence no private property was recognized. After this power was no longer based on land like in other modern societies but it was the labor on that land that was important. Land no longer decided the persons standing in a society for after all the more slaves one owned the more crops they could harvest and the better off they would be. In this African society, one linked by trading empires and tribal governments, it was the slave that decided someones worth in society. As the lawyer pionted out to Cinque there were slaves in Africa but their role was different then in the western world. Before the Europeans came to Africa there existed thriving economic and stable political conditions. In the North there were the great Muslim kingdoms like Songhay who built flourishing cities like Timbuktu or Gao. These empires were based on trade and it was the demand for tribute from those trading that kept them flourishing. It was trade too and the arrival of Europeans that built the Central African kingdoms. The Portugese were among the first to make strong ties with African kings especially with the people of the Kongo. In exchange for manufactured goods and textiles the Portugese demand slaves especially and certian valuable natrual resources. And it was this demand for slaves that began to tear the African Kingdoms apart. The Africans want for Europeans good led to the need for more nad more slaves which started causing warring factions within the Africans. Over time the Portugese began carry their human cargoes to Europe and to their increasing colonies in the new world. It was the Spanish who pioneered the early slave trade with the traingular trade. This system of exchange brought slaves from Africa to America where American goods were taken to Europe and sold. The Europeans then shipped manufactured goods to Africa in exchange for slaves the the chain repeated itself. This business became very lucrative and it was the offer of riches that caused some African tribesmen to organize raiding parties, capture their fellow countrymen and sell them to the European invaders. The offer of riches was too great many to resist even though the property beliefs at the time went against what the Africans were doing. And it was the slave trade that led to the general breakdown of the African society. Those Africans who did take place in the raiding and abduction of fellow countrymen profited from their interaction with the Portugese but they were just about the only people to have benifited. The of around 16 million people can be attributed to the slave trade alone. This huge loss in demographics wreaked havoc in the traditional African societies. Women had to take charge of those roles men typically fulfilled and the effects of this are evident later on in modern Africa. Societies that were close to the water were especially vulnerable to the ill-effects of the slave trade. Along with destroying governments the slave trade sparked off conflicts and civil wars that had no cuase. The Africans clearly had very different ideas when it came to property and ownership that was destroyed with the arrival of the Portugese and Spanish. A contrast in philosophies on property can be seen through the Amistad controversey. The people on the Amistad commit actions that call into question several issues of property dealt with in the lower courts. But before these issues can be addressed the passengers of the Amistad must make it to America. Their journey begins in what appears to be the run of the mill tribe which was minding its own business until the stories protagonist, Cinque, is adbucted form the village. He is taken from there to a Portugese slave fortess where the abductees are counted and catalogued. Cinque is then taken on a Portugese ship, the Tecorah, to Cuba. On the journey the viewer appreciates the countless horrors the passengers must endure on the trip to the new world. By seeing what these people had to endure prepares the viewer for what happens later in their journey to the new world. When the Tecorah reaches Cuba the Africans are then auctioned off to Spanish merchants senors Ruiz and Menez. They take their new purchases from Cuba on a journey to America on the ship Amistad. During the journey Cinque leads a revolt agianst their Spanish captors killing all but two of the ships crew. The Amistad now in control of the Africans is piloted along the American coastline until it is apprehended by a ship of the fledgling United States Navy. The Amistad Africans as they are called are charged