Describe the historical relevance of the following characters of the movie Amistad.  (Joadson, Van Buren, Quincy Adams, Tappan)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Based upon the only instance in history in which Africans who were seized by slave trade merchants won their freedom and returned home, the historical occurrences are depicted in the Amistad Murals which hang in Savery Library in Talladega College in Alabama. These murals painted by Aspacio Woodruff are in three panels: The Revolt, The Court Scene, and Back to Africa.

Here is the historical relevance of the characters listed:

Theodore Joadson - According to Richard Newman of the Rochester Institute of Technology, the character of Joadson, a freed slave and activist, is a fictitious character created to

illustrate African Americans' contributions to the movement for racial justice in antebellum society. 

Some feel that this character distorts the African Americans' contributions to the efforts for racial justice in antebellum society by his part which is exaggerated. Others allow for the artistic freedom of Spielberg to represent blacks in America fighting for the rights of slaves. Joadson, Newman states, is modeled after a real man, 

Philadelphia's James Forten - successful businessman, race leader and, in a small but important sense, a founding father of American democratic practice.

In the novel, when Tappan pleads with John Quincy Adams to help them, Adams replies that he is neither "friend nor foe" to the abolitionists; then, Joadson steps forward and says,

 "Sir, I know you. I know as much about your presidency as any man. And your father' were a child at your father's side when he helped invent America. You in turn have devoted your life to refining that novel invention. But there remains one task still left undone...Your record confirms you're an abolitionist, President Adams....Whether you want to admit it or not. You belong with us."

Lewis Tappan - A Conneticut Abolitionist, who endeavored to win the freedom of the illegally enslaved captives of the ship, enlisted very competent lawyers who won the case for the slaves when it went to the United States Supreme Court in 1841. Further,Tappan and his brother, Senator Benjamin Tappan, not only assisted in the acquittal of the slaves, but they increased the public support for the Africans by generating fund raisers. Tappan later became the founder of the American Missionary Association in 1846 which went on to construct 100 anti-slavery churches throughout the Midwest. 

Martin Van Buren - As President in 1841, Van Buren, who was personally neutral on the slave question, sided with the government of Spain to return the kidnapped slaves in the case of the ship Amistad 

John Quincy Adams - Adams, who was formerly the second president refuses to join the cause of the abolitionists, but is impressed with Joadson. Formerly the second president, he entered the House of Representatives at the time of the Amistad incident. After two district courts rule in favor of the abolitionists, and Van Buren immediately instructs the U.S. attorney general to appeal, the abolitionists convince Adams, "Old Man Eloquent," to argue for the Africans' freedom in the Supreme Court.  

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