“Go fuck yourself.”I mean the other President who's Dad was President, John Quincy Adams. Movie fans will remember the role in the mostly historically accurate Spielberg movie Amistad, in which Anthony Hopkins again makes you forget that he's Anthony Hopkins. After his presidency, Adams served in the US House of Representatives and was known as a friend of the Abolitionists. In one of his greatest scenes, Hopkins captures the intensity and genius of former president Adams when he argued for the defendants in the case of United States, Appellants, vs. Cinque, and others, Africans, captured in the schooner Amistad.
In 1839, 53 captive blacks on board La Amistad were being illegally smuggled into the US to be sold into slavery. They killed the ship's captain and cook and took over the ship, but were intercepted by the US Navy off the coast of Long Island. The Africans were charged with murder. The survivors of the Amistad crew claimed ownership of the “property” as did the Spanish government. The case was closely watched because of the possible legal fallout on slavery. Abolitionists enlisted attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin and the former President John Q Adams in their cause to free the Africans. Many southerners argued that to find these blacks innocent would start a civil war (something about “give me my way or someone will die” sounds familiar).
The Africans were freed and allowed to return to Africa, courtesy of the US Navy.
Of particular interest for the modern historian, Adams proved to the US Supreme Court that the president, Martin Van Buren, had grossly interfered in the case. Van Buren, who was worried about his re-election prospects in the southern states, ordered a U.S. schooner to return the Africans to Cuba immediately after a favorable decision, before any appeals could be decided. He had also replaced the first trial judge, who he was afraid would rule for the Africans.
Adams (and Baldwin) argued all aspects of the case, covering the particularly distasteful ground of property law as it applied to human beings at that time. They argued that the treaties the government cited didn't apply. But of particular interest to anyone interested in checks and balances are the passages in which Adams points out the importance of checking the power of the executive branch.
And here arises a consideration, the most painful of all others; in considering the duty I have to discharge, in which, in supporting the action 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 rights.Those were the days when at least some of our leaders did the right thing, stated their cases eloquently and forcefully, and fought for the rights and dignity of every human being. The efforts of this one man, a former president and son of a president, helped end slavery. In his argument to free people who had been captured and enslaved, Adams uttered words that every generation, every administration, every citizen should remember:
This review of all the proceedings of the Executive I have made with utmost pain, because it was necessary to bring it fully before your Honors, to show that the course of that department had been dictated, throughout, not by justice but by sympathy — and a sympathy the most partial and injust. And this sympathy prevailed to such a degree, among all the persons concerned in this business, as to have perverted their minds with regard to all the most sacred principles of law and right, on which the liberties of the United States are founded; and a course was pursued, from the beginning to the end, which was not only an outrage upon the persons whose lives and liberties were at stake, but hostile to the power and independence of the judiciary itself.Here in the midst of the modern dark ages, where the leading candidates for a major party presidential nomination openly advocate such outrages upon both the judicial and legislative branches, Adams' words should haunt the consciences of anyone who might have the power to stop them.