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In 1839, at the time of the Amistad, slavery was legal in selected US states, and geographically limited according to federal law. However, the slave trade and the importation of slaves had been outlawed in the United States since 1817. Slavery was still widespread, especially in the South and dictated economics.


The Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico would continue to tolerate the outlawed slave trade until the 1860s, but eventually outlaw slavery by the end of the 1870s2.
By the time of the Amistad incident, the feeling in America towards slavery had polarized. Feelings ran the gamut from the abolitionists that called for an immediate ban on slavery, to the people that felt a constitutional amendment was long overdue, and included the advocates that argued slavery was a states' issue and wished to prolong the practice, primarily in the rural South for economic reasons. In the Northern States, "the rising voices of black, as well as white, abolitionists are partly responsible for ending slavery in the Northern states during the first part of the nineteenth century"3. According to Jackson, "if many were sympathetic to the Africans, there were plenty of others among the American press and public with only contempt for them", and Cinque, the leader of the mutineers, was described by one journalist to be "as miserably ignorant and brutalized a creature as the rest"4. ...
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