William Holabird was appointed by President Van Buren to the position of United States Attorney for the district of Connecticut. In this position, it fell to Holabird to make the fateful decision what to do initially with the Amistad, its passengers, and its cargo. His cautious decision to write the Secretary of State for instructions and hold a judicial hearing on board the Washington made possible the remarkable story that would span three decades.

Holabird's personal sympathies clearly lay with Montes and Ruiz. Holabird had no use for the abolitionist movement. He at first viewed the case as a open and shut matter of mutiny and murder. He hoped, however, that the matter could be handled through diplomatic channels rather than it become his duty to try the Amistads.

Holabird essentially served the interests of President Van Buren and Spain. In so doing, he took the position that the courts should put the matter in the hands of the Executive, who in turn should deliver the captives to Spain. In a letter to Secretary of state Forsyth as the trial began in Hartford, Holabird expressed concern over the outcome: "I should regret extremely if the rascally blacks should fall into the hands of the abolitionists, with whom Hartford is filled."