This section looks at the pre-Civil War years. Learn about early rebellions of enslaved people and the role of abolitionists in changing public opinion about slavery in the United States. Explore court cases that challenged the legal basis for slavery.
The documentary series "Emancipation Road" looks at the different eras of the historic struggle for Black freedom. This episode looks at the history of slavery in the United States from the beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade to the American Civil War.
Amistad: The Federal Courts and the Challenge to Slavery from the Federal Judicial Center
In 1839 the federal courts became the stage for a drama involving enslaved Africans who led a revolt against their captors and sought to return to their homeland in West Africa. The case of the Amistad forced the judiciary to address issues related to the slave trade, the property claims of slaveholders, and the enslaved men's claim of personal liberty. This program uses an extensive selection of historic images and documents to tell the story that culminated with the Supreme Court's decision about the freedom of the Africans from the Amistad.
Learn about the legal importance of the Amistad trials by exploring three questions they presented. First: Are the African mutineers criminals? Second: Are they property? Third: If neither, what should happen to them? The ensuing controversy, you'll learn, helped build momentum for turning public opinion in the North against slavery.
The requirement that judges restrain their personal feelings and prevent outside factors from influencing their judicial decisions can be traced back to English common law. This practice is known as judicial restraint, and the abandonment of this essential principle is at the heart of a controversial case known as The Dred Scott Decision.