Lincoln to Thai king: Thanks but no thanks for the elephants In this March 22, 2018, photo, the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glynn Davies talks to media in front of hand-written letters from U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Thailand king Mongkut on display at the exhibition titled "Great and Good Friends," inside Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit/Neil Ransom/Wiki Commons)
Lincoln to Thai king: Thanks but no thanks for the elephants
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The elephant is Thailand's national animal. So it's only natural that King Mongkut in 1861 offered to send a pair to the United States. They were meant as a gift of the friendship between the two countries.

Abraham Lincoln was president at the time. He was likely bemused and relieved at the distraction from America's then-raging Civil War. But he politely declined. He said his country uses the steam engine, so it would have no use for the working animals.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok is showcasing historic gifts the two countries have exchanged on the grounds of Thailand's Grand Palace. This is part of the 200th anniversary celebrating the long-lasting relationship between the two countries.

There are documents spanning two centuries. The showcase includes the first-ever official letter sent between the two countries in 1818. It was sent from a Thai diplomat to President James Monroe. Also included are some spectacular Thai objects d'art and portraits.

Then there's the elephants story. It is documented among the exhibits.

In his 1861 letters, Mongkut offered the elephants after learning they were not native to America. He also sent along three gifts. These included a sword and scabbard. It also included a photograph of the king with one of his daughters, and an impressive pair of elephant tusks.

He addressed the letters to then-President James Buchanan "or whomever would become president" with elaborate paragraph-long salutations.

Lincoln was already president by the time the letters arrived a year later. He penned a reply and addressed the king simply as "Great and Good Friend."

The offer of elephants did not neglect practical details. Mongkut stated, "On this account, we desire to procure and send elephants to be let loose to increase and multiply in the continent of America." 

Thailand was called Siam then. It did not have a large enough vessel to transport them, the letter said.

It continued: "In reference to this opinion of ours if the President of the United States and Congress who conjointly with him rule the country see fit to approve, let them provide a large vessel. It should be loaded with hay and other food suitable for elephants on the voyage. It should have tanks holding a sufficiency of fresh water. And it should be arranged with stalls so that the elephants can both stand and lie down in the ship. And it should be sent to us to receive the elephants. We on our part will procure young male and female elephants and forward them one or two pairs at a time."

Mongkut then in his letter directs that the elephants should be kept away from the cold and under the sun. The letter also stated to "let them with all haste be turned out to run wild in some jungle suitable for them not confining them any length of time."

"If these means can be done we trust that the elephants will propagate their species hereafter in the continent of America," the letter said.

Thai monarchy expert Tongthong Chandransu said the offer of elephants reveals that Mongkut wanted to be part of building the young United States.

"You have to consider that 200 years ago, elephants were an important means of transportation and helped a lot with our work, not to mention warfare, but also the building of homes and cities," Tongthong said.

The ever-practical Lincoln rejected the offer to send wild elephants running through American forests, saying the country "does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant." He said in his 1862 letter that "steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce."

The exhibition runs until June 30.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What do you think it would be like if elephants roamed forests in the United States? Do you think they would survive? Why or why not?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (87)
  • JasminderK-del
    5/02/2018 - 09:11 p.m.

    This article is about an exhibit that celebrates Thailand and the USAs 200 year "friendship" anniversary. The exhibit showcases evidence from the nations very first encounters which usually consisted of letters and gifts. Once when Lincoln was president he received news the Thailand was offering to send a pair of elephants after they learned the specimen was not native to the US, but Lincoln kindly declined.

  • ZofiaT-del
    5/02/2018 - 09:23 p.m.

    This article is about how President Lincoln and the ruler of Siam/Thailand had a dispute over elephants. One day, the ruler of Thailand had sent over a letter to Lincoln explaining how he wanted to gift them elephants, and they should bring a fleet of ships for them with places for water and food. Lincoln denied, and he probably thought it was foolish on how you should refine a whole ship for elephants. The nucleus and productivity of Lincolns plans were the Civil War, and he had to concentrate on that. He also added that the elephants would have to probe in a different habitat compared to the jungles. Instead, Lincoln explained that they had steam machines that would revolutionize their way of life compared to elephants.

  • JaredI-del
    5/02/2018 - 09:47 p.m.

    If elephants did roam the the united states then In biology they would be on top. Also there would need to be evidence that elephants are roaming the united states. The elephants would not survive because hunters will incision them to muffle there skin. It would also revolutionize the forests int the US. There also might be a chance they will survive because people will us there resistance to save elephants.

  • ChloeT-del
    5/02/2018 - 09:53 p.m.

    This article is about Thailand offering a pair of elephants to the United States. This revolutionized history because it symbolized friendship between them. It showed that there was no resistance between Thailand and the U.S. King Mongkut wanted to rivet and fascinate Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. He also sent a scabbard, a sword, and a picture. The picture was an image of him, one of his daughters, and a pair of elephant tusks. When the letters arrived, Abraham Lincoln addressed king Mongkut as a "Great and Good Friend." Even though Abraham was intrigued by the offer, he politely declined. The elephants would have no use in the U.S. since they used the steam engine. Mongkut also thought it was pivotal to send elephants "to be let loose to increase and multiply in the continent of America."

  • NatalieH-del
    5/02/2018 - 10:26 p.m.

    The national animal of Thailand is the elephant. Way back in 1861, the King of Thailand offered some elephants to America, as a gift. This intrigued many Americans, because the elephant was foreign to them. But, Lincoln politely declined his offer. He said no no because eventually his country would depend on technology and not animals for transportation. The elephants would not be pivotal for him. In fact, they would worsen the productivity of his transportation, because our technology has revolutionized so far, and even back then we've depended on it.

  • ChloeR-del
    5/02/2018 - 10:35 p.m.

    This story is about an exhibit on the good relationship between the United States and Thailand since 2 centuries ago. One famous example is about the King of Thailand trying to give the U.S some specimen of elephants in 1861. The king wanted the productivity of elephants as workers to help the country grow. Also, since America didn't have any elephants, he wanted them to multiply over there. Lincoln denied the offer saying that they have revolutionized their transportation system with steam engine. Lincoln tried to extinguish the idea of having elephants by saying that they weren't pivotal, but the king kept trying. After a while he gave up and didn't try again. This exhibit about the evidence of historical diplomatic ties between the two countries will go on until June 30.

  • SarahT-del
    5/02/2018 - 11:27 p.m.

    This article was about the disscussion of Thailand and America about elephants. At first, when the letter was sent, Lincoln was president and had to think of a circumvent to polietly decline. It was pivotal to Lincoln to focus on the Civil War at that time. Tongthong tried to give edvidence to Lincoln and rivet his attention that elephants were the nucleus to buliding and transporation.

  • OlivierJ-del
    5/02/2018 - 11:54 p.m.

    I don't believe that elephants should come to America. Many animal activists will fume when they hear this idea. According to biology Elephants belong in a dry habitat. If they came to America then the food chain would rupture. People have to think like realists and realize this is a bad idea.THE SPECIMEN OF ELEPHANT SHOULD NOT COME.

  • RushB-del
    5/03/2018 - 02:05 a.m.

    This article was an intriguing story that really tries to make the U.S and Thailand come together in unison. They showed some pivotal moments in history when explaining the situation, eventually they article got back to revolutionizing the way we think

  • WilliamF-del
    5/03/2018 - 05:47 a.m.

    There has been evidence about the conversation between king Mongkut and president Lincoln involving elephants. The president as our nucleus wanted to do what was best for the country. He politely said no and claimed that the technology today has become revolutionized and now steam trains are in use. The productivity of a steam train would be much better than of an elephant.Lincoln as a realist said we cannot have elephants running wild in the jungles of america.

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