This is mentioned in the film but notrndweh on: the Northern judges ruledrnagainst the freedom of the Amistad captives.rnThe Supreme Court, with a majorityrnof slaveholding Southerners, renderedrnthe proper decision: the Africansrnhad been illegally seized and were freed.rnThen, according to American law, theyrnhad to be sent back to Africa. In addition,rna law professor tells me that thernmovie badly distorts the legal issues andrnproceedings of the case, though theserntake up most of the film.rnHere is the real clincher. SamuelrnEliot Morison, one of the leading Americanrnhistorians of all time, wrote in hisrnOxford History of the American Peoplern(1965 edition, p. 520) that Cinque, thernleader of the Amistad captives, went backrnto West Africa and became a slave traderrnhimself! Being from Boston, Morisonrndid not have to give any source for thisrnstatement. Some writers have affirmed,rnothers have denied, this story, none ofrnthem having cited any source. In fact,rnexcept for the court record, everythingrnthat has been printed about the Amistadrncase is in the realm of romance ratherrnthan historical scholarship. The courtrnrecord is full of lawyers’ and diplomats’rnlies, but at least it’s a document.rnMorison’s story is inherently likely.rnHe was well connected in New Englandrnmaritime circles. New England shipsrnfrequently went to the coast of WestrnAfrica to sell rum and buy slaves andrncould have easily heard news of Cinque.rnMorison could have had the story wordrnof mouth from an old man who hadrnbeen there, or his descendants. ThatrnCinque became a slave trader is highlyrnplausible. What else could the man do?rnHis native village had been dispersed.rnWest Africa had little else to trade for Europeanrngoods except its people. It wouldrnhave been the best entrepreneurial opportunityrnopen to him. The region’srneconomy and politics consisted largely ofrncompetition between chiefs for marketrnshare.rnTo further develop the hokeyness ofrnAmistad’s portrayal of American life andrnpolitics, let me review the little-knownrnhistory of another slave ship ease. Inrn1858, a U.S. Navy vessel intercepted arnsuspicious looking ship near the Cubanrncoast. It turned out to be the Echo, out ofrnProvidence, Rhode Island, with over 400rnAfricans on board, many of them in veryrnmiserable condition. The officer whorncaptured the slaver was John N. Maffitt,rnwho a few vears later would be famous asrnthe commander of the Confederaternraider Florida. The captain and owner ofrnthe slaver was Edward Townsend, a welleducatedrnman from what passed for arngood family in Rhode Island. He allegedrnthat the Africans were all war captives orrnfamilies of executed criminals and thatrnhe had saved them from certain death.rnHe also said that had he completed hisrnvoyage, he and his silent investors couldrnhave cleared $130,000, a stag germg sumrnin those days.rnMaffitt took Townsend to Key West tornbe prosecuted. The Northern-born federalrnjudge, later a Unionist, refused torntake jurisdiction. Maffitt then had himrnsent to Boston, where the court had jurisdictionrnon the presumed point of originrnof the Echo. There the federal judgernalso refused to proceed, and Townsendrnwalked free, though guilty of a crimernequivalent to piracy in American and internationalrnlaw. (To avoid confusion, itrnshould be pointed out that there was anotherrnNew England slave ship namedrnEcho that was captured in I860, shortlyrnbefore the Lincoln crisis in America.rnAlmost two years later, the captain, arnman named Gordon from Maine, wasrnhanged by the U.S. government when itrnwas most expedient to convince Europeansrnthat the Union cause was justifiedrnby antislavery. As far as I know, this is thernonly one of thousands of Northernersrnengaged in the slave trade who was everrnpunished.)rnThe Echo, its crew, and captives wererntaken to Charleston. The people ofrnCharleston provided them with food,rnclothing, and other necessities and treatedrnthem with sympathy. The U.S. DistrictrnAttorney in Charleston was JamesrnConner, who a few years later would loserna leg fighting in the Confederate Army.rnUnable to get hold of Townsend, hernvigorously prosecuted the crew. However,rnthe juries felt (probably eorrectiy) thatrnthe miserable polyglot lot were as muchrnvictims as criminals, having been shanghaiedrnor tricked into the voyage. Thernmortality rate of the Echo captives wasrnover 30 percent. The survivors were returnedrnto Africa, though it was reportedrnthat many of them did not want to go.rn(The story of the Echo case comes fromrnthe research of my former student, Dr.rnJohn C. Roberson.)rnI recount this case to provide somerncontrast to the cartoon version of Americanrnhistory given in Amistad. The moviernpresents a distorted picture and very possiblyrnwill arouse hatred at a time when itrnis the last thing needed. The rehearsal ofrnancient guilt and outrage is not a healthyrnactivity for Americans, African- or otherwise.rnIt requires selecting out a fewrnscapegoats to blame for all the longrnrecord of the crimes, misfortunes, andrnfollies of mankind. Psychologists callrnthis projection. Its purpose is to save usrnthe trouble of examining our own problemsrnand sins.rnClyde Wilson is a professor of Americanrnhistory at the University of SouthrnCarolina.rnThe Titanic 90’srnby Egon Richard TauschrnTitanicrnProduced by James Cameronrnand ]on EandaurnDirected by ]ames CameronrnScreenplay by ]ames CameronrnReleased by Paramount andrn20th Century FoxrnThe umpteenth movie about thernsinking of the great ship finallyrnmeets modern standards. JamesrnCameron’s Academy Award-winningrnTitanic may be the “movie of the year,”rnbut it is just as dishonest, immoral, cowardly,rnvulgar, and historically ignorant asrnour own age is. The true story of the Titanicrnis the stuff of tragedy (in the Greekrnsense), heroism, and history. So Hollywoodrnhas decided to skip it; the youngrnwouldn’t understand. Instead, we arerngiven a three-hour melodrama of postadolescentrnlust, combining the philosophicalrndepth of I970’s Love Storyrn(“Love means never having to say you’rernsorry”) with the epic grandeur of a lemmingrnmigration.rnSome older people might rememberrnthe elegant, 1953 Barbara Stanwick-rnClifton Webb drama of the same name,rnwhich provided a moving love/hate story,rnwith surprising twists and sparkling dialogue,rnending in self-sacrifice and transcendentrnglory, while never forgettingrnthe saga of the sinking ship. FlorencernKing accurately predicted that Hollywoodrnwould never again permit such arnfilm with its powerful ending, becausern”If I can respond emotionally to a fullthroatedrnrendition of ‘Nearer My GodrnTo Thee’ with every atheistic fiber of myrnJUNE 1998/49rnrnrn