Lincoln and the Elephants

John Hartwell

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BRA5glTCIAE8L84.jpg

The Siamese Army in 1875 (note the elephant-mounted canon and Gatling gun)
"To the King of Siam
February 3, 1862

Abraham Lincoln,
President of the United States of America.
To His Majesty Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongut,
King of Siam,

Great and Good Friend: I have received Your Majesty's two letters of the date of February 14th., 1861.

I have also received in good condition the royal gifts which accompanied those letters,---namely, a sword of costly materials and exquisite workmanship; a photographic likeness of Your Majesty and of Your Majesty's beloved daughter; and also two elephants' tusks of length and magnitude such as indicate that they could have belonged only to an animal which was a native of Siam.

Your Majesty's letters show an understanding that our laws forbid the President from receiving these rich presents as personal treasures. They are therefore accepted in accordance with Your Majesty's desire as tokens of your good will and friendship for the American People. Congress being now in session at this capital, I have had great pleasure in making known to them this manifestation of Your Majesty's munificence and kind consideration.

Under their directions the gifts will be placed among the archives of the Government, where they will remain perpetually as tokens of mutual esteem and pacific dispositions more honorable to both nations than any trophies of conquest could be.

I appreciate most highly Your Majesty's tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States.

Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.

I shall have occasion at no distant day to transmit to Your Majesty some token of indication of the high sense which this Government entertains of Your Majesty's friendship.

Meantime, wishing for Your Majesty a long and happy life, and for the generous and emulous People of Siam the highest possible prosperity, I commend both to the blessing of Almighty God.

Your Good Friend, ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Washington, February 3, 1862.

By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State."




His Majesty Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua, or Rama IV (1808-68), known in English-speaking countries as King Mongkut, is one of the most popular Thai Kings. He struggled throughout his reign to maintain his country’s independence. As a result, Thailand is one of only three countries in East Asia never to succumb to European Colonial rule.

He was also the monarch of the 1870 memoir, The English Governess at the Siamese Court: Being Recollections of Six Years in the Royal Palace in Bangkok, by Anna Leonowens (which, by the way, is banned in Thailand as an insult to the memory of Mongkut, one of their most popular national heroes). Upon that book is based the musical, “The King and I.”


This correspondence is the sole basis for the myth that Lincoln turned down Mongkut's offer of "a herd of War Elephants".
 

FloridaCSA

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I think this gets some mention in "The King and I".

It does make an interesting visual to imagine a pack of elephants trying to storm Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, no? :wink:

Wonder if it would have changed the outcome haha. Probably not unless the fear of a herd of militarized elephants sent the south running. I bet it's very intimidating. Gives a whole new meaning to seeing the elephant.

I can see little mac leading a review riding one.
 

John Hartwell

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E
Wonder if it would have changed the outcome haha. Probably not unless the fear of a herd of militarized elephants sent the south running. I bet it's very intimidating. Gives a whole new meaning to seeing the elephant.

I can see little mac leading a review riding one.
Elephants tend to panic when wounded -- and then there's no telling in what direction they're going to stampede. Real war=elephants had to be highly trained and well disciplined to be effective.
 

Peace Society

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Arkansas Living, the magazine for the Arkansas Electric Co-ops, in its Trivia section, May 2021:

During the Civil War, the king of Siam offered to send the United States herds of elephants to help the war effort. President Lincoln politely declined the offer.

They don't cite a source for that bit of trivia. Is there really only that one letter as a source? It would be hard to construe a herd of war elephants from that, or even of transportation unless the breeding stock could do double duty. Does someone somewhere have other information on it?
 

John Hartwell

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I think this gets some mention in "The King and I".
Indeed it does.

Actually that's one of my favorite scenes from the movie.
( The original, 1956 film)

Deborah Kerr is still dealing with the "culture shock" of living in the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand) , when Yul Brynner ... playing the "King of Siam" asks her opinion about his elephants to Lincoln idea.

:bounce:

As an English lady, she's not really an expert about what's going with the ACW.
Much less ... what Abe Lincoln would think about a gift of War elephants.

:laugh:







 
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