Title page of 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.
In 1839 a group of about fifty Africans who had been illegally kidnapped from their homeland, transported to Cuba, and sold as slaves, revolted against their captors and seized the ship, the Amistad. They intended to sail home but were deceived by the Spanish crew who covertly steered the ship towards the coast of the United States where the Africans were apprehended by the US and taken into custody.
The complicated diplomatic case of the Amistad made it to the Supreme Court and attracted the attention of abolition and antislavery forces along the way. John Quincy Adams appeared before the Court to argue the defense of the captives and a week later Justice Story delivered the opinion that the captives could not be considered "property" and directed their release from custody.