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Law School Case Brief

The Antelope - 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66 (1825)

Rule:

The legality of the capture of a vessel engaged in the slave trade, depends on the law of the country to which the vessel belongs. If that law gives its sanction to the trade, restitution will be decreed; if that law prohibits it, the vessel and cargo will be condemned as good prize.

Facts:

Foreign countries were transporting slaves when pirates seized them. Some slaves died. An American ship then intercepted the pirates. The foreign countries requested that their slaves be returned to them. The foreign countries brought a claim for the return of slaves. The Supreme Court of Georgia granted relief to the foreign countries. On appeal, the Government claimed that because the slave trade was illegal, the foreign countries were not entitled to the return of any slaves.

Issue:

Were the foreign countries entitled to the return of slaves, notwithstanding the fact that slave trade was illegal in the United States?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the foreign countries were entitled to the return of slaves. According to the Court, although the slave trade was now prohibited by the laws of most civilized nations, the subjects of those nations who have not prohibited it by municipal acts or treaties may still lawfully carry it on. The Court held that a vessel engaged in the slave trade, even if prohibited by the laws of the country to which it belonged, cannot, for that cause alone, be seized on the high seas, and brought in for adjudication in the courts of another country. In the case at bar, the Court determined that the slave trade was legal in the foreign countries, and the U.S. Government did not have the authority to nullify their laws.

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