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Chapter Week 2 Reading

POLB30H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter Week 2 Reading: Thomas Wolsey, Suum Cuique, Arraignment

Political Science
Course Code
Margaret Kohn
Week 2 Reading

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Argument of John Quincy Adams, Before the Supreme Court of the United States : in the Case
of the United States, Appellants, vs. Cinque, and Others, Africans, Captured in the schooner
Amistad, by Lieut. Gedney; 1841
Argument of John Quincy Adams before the Supreme Court of the United States
May it please your Honors--
In rising to address this Court as one of its attorneys and counsellors, regularly admitted at a
great distance of time, I feel that an apology might well be expected where I shall perhaps be
more likely to exhibit at once the infirmities of age and the inexperience of youth, than to render
those services to the individuals whose lives and liberties are at the disposal of this Court which I
would most earnestly desire to render. But as I am unwilling to employ one moment of the time
of the Court in anything that regards my own personal situation, I shall reserve what few
observations I may think necessary to offer as an apology till the close of my argument on the
merits of the question.
I therefore proceed immediately to say that, in a consideration of this case, I derive, in the
distress I feel both for myself and my clients, consolation from two sources--first, that the rights
of my clients to their lives and liberties have already been defended by my learned friend and
colleague in so able and complete a manner as leaves me scarcely anything to say, and I feel that
such full justice has been done to their interests, that any fault or imperfection of mine will
merely be attributed to its true cause; and secondly, I derive consolation from the thought that
this Court is a Court of JUSTICE. And in saying so very trivial a thing, I should not on any other
occasion, perhaps, be warranted in asking the Court to consider what justice is. Justice, as
defined in the Institutes of Justinian, nearly 2000 years ago, and as it is felt and understood by all
who understand human relations and human rights, is--
"Constans et perpetua voluntas, jus suum cuique tribuendi."
"The constant and perpetual will to secure to every one HIS OWN right."
And in a Court of Justice, where there are two parties present, justice demands that the rights of
each party should be allowed to himself, as well as that each party has a right, to be secured and
protected by the Court. This observation is important, because I appear here on the behalf of
thirty-six individuals, the life and liberty of every one of whom depend on the decision of this
Court. The Court, therefore, I trust, in deciding this case, will form no lumping judgment on
these thirty-six individuals, but will act on the consideration that the life and the liberty of every
one of them must be determined by its decision for himself alone.

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They are here, individually, under very different circumstances, and in very different characters.
Some are in one predicament, some in another. In some of the proceedings by which they have
been brought into the custody and under the protection of this Court, thirty-two or three of them
have been charged with the crime of murder. Three or four of them are female children,
incapable, in the judgment of our laws, of the crime of murder or piracy, or, perhaps, of any
other crime. Yet, from the day when the vessel was taken possession of by one of our naval
officers, they have all been held as close prisoners, now for the period of eighteen long months,
under custody and by authority of the Courts of the United States. I trust, therefore, that before
the ultimate decision of this Court is established, its honorable members will pay due attention to
the circumstances and condition of every individual concerned.
When I say I derive consolation from the consideration that I stand before a Court of Justice, I
am obliged to take this ground, because, as I shall show, another Department of the Government
of the United States has taken, with reference to this case, the ground of utter injustice, and these
individuals for whom I appear, stand before this Court, awaiting their fate from its decision,
under the array of the whole Executive power of this nation against them, in addition to that of a
foreign nation. And here arises a consideration, the most painful of all others, in considering the
duty I have to discharge, in which, in supporting the motion to dismiss the appeal, I shall be
obliged not only to investigate and submit to the censure of this Court, the form and manner of
the proceedings of the Executive in this case, but the validity, and the motive of the reasons
assigned for its interference in this unusual manner in a suit between parties for their individual
At an early period of my life it was my fortune to witness the representation upon the stage of
one of the tragic masterpieces of the great Dramatist of England, or I may rather say of the great
Dramatist of the world, and in that scene which exhibits in action the sudden, the instantaneous
fall from unbounded power into irretrievable disgrace of Cardinal Wolsey, by the abrupt
declaration of displeasure and dismission from the service of his King, made by that monarch in
the presence of Lord Surry and of the Lord Chamberlain; at the moment of Wolsey's humiliation
and distress, Surry gives vent to his long suppressed resentments for the insolence and injuries
which he had endured from the fallen favorite while in power, and breaks out into insulting and
bitter reproaches, till checked by the Chamberlain, who says:
"Oh! my Lords;
Press not a falling man too far: 'tis Virtue."
The repetition of that single line, in the relative position of the parties, struck me as a moral
principle, and made upon my mind an impression which I have carried with me through all the
changes of my life, and which I trust I shall carry with me to my grave.
It is, therefore, peculiarly painful to me, under present circumstances, to be under the necessity
of arraigning before this Court and before the civilized world, the course of the existing
Administration in this case. But I must do it. That Government is still in power, and thus, subject
to the control of the Court, the lives and liberties of all my clients are in its hands. And if I
should pass over the course it has pursued, those who have not had an opportunity to examine the

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case and perhaps the Court itself, might decide that nothing improper had been done, and that the
parties I represent had not been wronged by the course pursued by the Executive. In making this
charge, or arraignment, as defensive of the rights of my clients, I now proceed to an examination
of the correspondence of the Secretary of State with the ambassador of her Catholic Majesty, as
officially communicated to Congress, and published among the national documents.
The charge I make against the present Executive administration is that in all their proceedings
relating to these unfortunate men, instead of that Justice, which they were bound not less than
this honorable Court itself to observe, they have substituted Sympathy!--sympathy with one of
the parties in this conflict of justice, and Antipathy to the other. Sympathy with the white,
antipathy to the black--and in proof of this charge I adduce the admission and avowal of the
Secretary of State himself. In the letter of Mr. Forsyth to the Spanish Minister d'Argaiz, of 13th
of December, 1839, [Document H. R. N. S. 185,] defending the course of the administration
against the reproaches utterly groundless, but not the less bitter of the Spanish Envoy, he says:
"The undersigned cannot conclude this communication without calling the attention of the
Chevalier d'Argaiz to the fact, that with the single exception of the vexatious detention to which
Messrs. Montes and Ruiz have been subjected in consequence of the civil suit instituted against
them, all the proceedings in the matter, on the part both the Executive and Judicial branches of
the government have had their foundation in the ASSUMPTION that these parsons ALONE
were the parties aggrieved; and that their claims to the surrender of the property was founded in
fact and in justice." [pp. 29, 30.]
At the date of this letter, this statement of Mr. Forsyth was strictly true. All the proceedings of
the government, Executive and Judicial, in this case had been founded on the assumption that the
two Spanish slave-dealers were the only parties aggrieved--that all the right was on their side,
and all the wrong on the side of their surviving self-emancipated victims. I ask your honors, was
this JUSTICE? No. It was not so considered by Mr. Forsyth himself. It was sympathy, and he so
calls it, for in the preceding page of the same letter referring to the proceedings of this
Government from the very first intervention of Lieut. Gedney, he says:
"Messrs. Ruiz and Montes were first found near the coast of the United States, deprived of their
property and of their freedom, suffering from lawless violence in their persons, and in imminent
and constant danger of being deprived of their lives also. They were found in this distressing and
perilous situation by officers of the United States, who, moved towards them by sympathetic
feeling which subsequently became as it were national, immediately rescued them from personal
danger, restored them to freedom, secured their oppressors that they might abide the
consequences of the acts of violence perpetrated upon them, and placed under the safeguard of
the laws all the property which they claimed as their own, to remain in safety until the competent
authority could examine their title to it, and pronounce upon the question of ownership agreeably
to the provisions of the 9th article of the treaty of 1795."
This sympathy with Spanish slave-traders is declared by the Secretary to have been first felt by
Lieutenant Gedney. I hope this is not correctly represented. It is imputed to him and declared to
have become in a manner national. The national sympathy with the slave-traders of the
baracoons is officially declared to have been the prime motive of action of the government: And
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