Amistad: Natural Law vs. Positive Law

Essay by xxveronHigh School, 12th gradeA-, April 2008

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Throughout the movie “Amistad,” directed by Steven Spielberg, conflict between Natural Law and Positive Law appears to be an underlying theme. The story is of a group of African slaves that effected a mutiny on their slave ship. After killing many Spaniards, the African slaves were then captured and put on trial. The story is based on a historical trial which took place in the United States during the years of 1939-1940. This trial ultimately became a very tricky political ‘game’ between the North and South of the United States over the case of slavery, as well as an international issue between the U.S and Spain. The main question being posed throughout the movie is, were the slaves justified in their actions, and should they have been rewarded or punished for their actions? When referring to the two philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Plato, it is evident to see that both believed the slaves actions were in fact justified, however, and both believed they should not have been rewarded.

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes, born April 5th 1588, was a strong believer in positive law. The definition of positive law is the theory that law is a body of rules formulated by the state, and that citizens are obligated to obey the law for the good of the state as a whole. (Alexandrowicz et al., 617) Thomas Hobbes believed people were naturally “war-like and evil,” (77) and also believed that all men were created equally; it is because of this equality that conflict would constantly occur because of the human properties of competition, diffidence, and glory. (Stanford University) These three factors are evidently found throughout the primary actions of the slaves in “Amistad.” Initially, Cinque, the main character of the movie, breaks lose from his slave chains and initiates fighting and chaos...