IN THE SPOTLIGHT: President Lincoln’s new elephants

When we were on vacation in 1968, a major summer storm thwarted our evening plans so my parents turned on the television and we watched the movie, THE KING & I, based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. I was not interested until I heard Yul Brenner mention Abraham Lincoln’s name. I remained glued to the television set waiting for Lincoln to appear.


As the Civil War intensified, President Abraham Lincoln received a letter offering an unusual gift from the King of Siam.

In May of 1856, the United States had signed a new treaty with Siam (now Thailand). As a gesture of goodwill, King Mongkut the Great (also known as King Rama IV) sent a letter and gifts to President James Buchanan. By the time they arrived, though, Lincoln was president. The gifts consisted of a daguerreotype of the King with his daughter and a variegated steel sword.

While the gifts were amazing, the contents of the letter, dated February 14, 1861, were equally memorable. The King of Siam, recognizing that the United States did not have elephants, offered several pairs of elephants that could be, “turned loose in forests and increase till there be large herds.” The letter argued that “elephants being animals of great size and strength can bear burdens and travel through uncleared woods and matted jungles where no carriage and cart roads have yet been made.”

On February 3, 1862, Lincoln received both the gifts and the letter. While he accepted the gifts, he politely refused the elephants noting, “Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favour the multiplication of the elephant, and steam . . . has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.”

Image: National Library of Scotland

About Wright Flyer Guy

Darin is a single adoptive father, a teacher, playwright, and musical theatre director from Kettering, Ohio.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.