Steven Spielberg’s movie Amistad, released in 1997, is considered to be a good movie. The New York Times published a very favorable review of the film when it came out stating that it provides “tough, sobering depictions of the captives’ ordeal.” It has all of the ingredients of a great historical motion picture; it is interesting, exciting at times, and educational. Amistad is a go to film for many high school history teachers to begin discussion on the Amistad case. While the movie follows the movements of high profile characters from the Amistad story such as Martin Van Buren, Cinque, Roger Baldwin, and John Quincy Adams, it leaves out the American public at large. There are scenes where crowds are shown gathered at the caboose of a train to hear Van Buren speak and outside the courtroom in Connecticut, but these are just fleeting images of an American public who was actively reading about and forming opinions on the Amistad case as it was occurring. Maybe it should not come as a surprise that Spielberg’s Amistad leaves out the American public when talking about different aspects of the Amistad events. Many scholarly sources that look at the Amistad focus on the main political and legal personalities involved in the case (John Quincy Adams’ speech to the Supreme Court has been thoroughly investigated), but not on the reaction of the American public. This gap in the scholarly research is understandable as the Amistad event has many important aspects that give scholars numerous choices as to where to direct their research. This oversight is where I directed my own efforts in trying to add a different way to look at the Amistad event as a whole. After analyzing existing scholarly sources on the Amistad event, I look at different newspaper articles about the Amistad event from 1839 to 1845 and investigate the American public’s reaction to the case based on how these newspapers present their arguments to their readership. I argue that region and political affiliation had a large impact on how Americans viewed the Amistad event.
Joshua Greenberg (Thesis Director)
Thomas G. Nester
Copyright and Permissions
Original document was submitted as an Honors Program requirement. Copyright is held by the author.
Perkins, Samuel. (2014). Visions of the Amistad: American Public Engagement with the Amistad Story. In BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 71. Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/honors_proj/71
Copyright © 2014 Samuel Perkins