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The Antelope

United States Supreme Court
23 U.S. 66 (1825)


In 1819, a foreign-flagged ship left Baltimore with an American crew. The crew changed the flag, renamed it the Arrangata, and attacked other ships, capturing hundreds of African slaves, including 160 from the Spanish Antelope. The Arrangata wrecked and put survivors on the Antelope. An American ship captured the Antelope and counted 183 Africans from Portuguese ships and 93 from others. Diplomats from Spain and Portugal (plaintiffs) claimed their citizens owned the slaves. Spain provided proof of private citizens’ ownership, but Portugal did not. Because the slaves could not be traced back to their original ships, the trial court divided the slaves proportionally between the countries by lot. The United States (defendant) appealed, arguing the slaves had a right to freedom. Congress had outlawed importing new slaves, although owning slaves remained legal until 1865. A third of the slaves died before the Supreme Court ruled some six years later.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, C.J.)

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