In the Civil War era, Americans from all walks of life discussed domestic politics and foreign policy. Debates on slavery were at the center of international relations.
In this Diplomacy Classroom, NMAD Public Historian Dr. Alison Mann helped us discover how the practice of diplomacy was used to enforce the rule of law. In 1839, the U.S. Navy confiscated a Spanish ship, La Amistad, off the coast of Long Island, New York. Aboard were Africans and two Spaniards, who insisted the Africans were their slaves who had taken over the ship, and a treaty between the United States and Spain stated that all “property” be restored. American abolitionists, however, argued that the Africans were free people based on international law.
Using international treaties in arguing the 1841 Supreme Court case The United States v. The Amistad, abolitionists challenged the U.S. government’s attempts to illegally enslave kidnapped Africans.