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Abraham Lincoln's Letter to the King of Siam (February 3, 1862)

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Sara Combs

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Transcript of Abraham Lincoln's Letter to the King of Siam (February 3, 1862)

Transcription of
First Letter from King Mongkut to
James Buchanan, February 14, 1860

PRESIDENTIAL CHARACTER
"Father Abraham" & "Honest Abe"

Price Two Cents
Washington, D.C., Monday, February 3, 1862
Vol XCIII, No. 311
PRESIDENT LINCOLN DECLINES GIFT OF ELEPHANTS FROM KING OF SIAM
In 1862, a single issue of
The New York Times
cost two cents.
35 Star Antique American Flag, New York 71st Vol. Infantry Reunion, Civil War http://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/folk-art/memorabilia-political-patriotic/35-star-antique-american-flag-new-york-71st-vol-infantry-reunion-civil-war/id-f_806533/

The Lincoln Times
Loring's Celestial Globe, circa 1833
David Rumsey Map Collection, Cartography Associates
http://www.davidrumsey.com/maps5126.html
Terrestrial and Celestial Globes in Rear Parlor of Lincoln's Springfield Home
Before his election to the presidency, was Abraham Lincoln interested in the world beyond Springfield and Illinois? Two contemporary sources provide some evidence that Lincoln's curiosity indeed stretched to the wider world. A reporter from
The Boston Journal
and an artist from
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
both documented the existence of a pair of tabletop globes in the Rear Parlor of Lincoln's home. Both visited Lincoln in Springfield in 1860. Describing the home, the
Journal
reporter stated, "I crossed the hall and entered the library. There were miscellaneous books on the shelves, [and] two globes, celestial and terrestrial, in the corners of the room." (1) The
Leslie's
artist produced a drawing of the back parlor that included the globes in the corners of the room. The artist's drawing of the parlor was followed during the restoration of the home in 1988. (2)
Photograph of Rear Parlor of
Lincoln's Springfield Home
(<http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/liho/rooms/rearParlor2.html>)
Drawing of Rear Parlor of Lincoln's Springfield Home published in
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
, March 9, 1861 (See End Note 2.)
http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/liho/exb/Home/6616-Leslies-Rear-Parlor.html
Terrestrial Globe, circa 1812, on display in Lincoln's Springfield Home
Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant . . . .
Abraham Lincoln, Letter to the King of Siam, February 3, 1863
February 3, 1862
Abraham Lincoln,
President of the United States of America.
To His Majesty Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongut,
King of Siam,
&c., &c.
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.


Lincoln's Letter to the King of Siam, February 3, 1862
President Abraham Lincoln to King Mongkut of Siam, “Abraham Lincoln to the King of Siam, February 3, 1862,” House Divided, The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/40508
On February 3, 1862 President Lincoln signed a letter to Rama IV, King Mongkut of Siam declining the king's offer to give elephants to the United States. The king had written President James Buchanan, or his successor, to acknowledge the receipt of a letter and a gift of 192 books from Buchanan. By way of return, King Mongkut sent three gifts—a sword and scabbard crafted in Siam, a photograph of himself with one of his daughters, and a pair of spectacular tusks from an elephant. In addition to these, the king offered an extraordinary gift—elephants for the United States! An American navy captain had informed Mongkut that elephants were not native to the U.S., but that Americans would turn out by the thousands to see their tusks on display at exhibits. The king proposed a plan to transport pairs of male and female elephants that could be released in the wilderness, allowed to propagate, and be tamed for use as beasts of burden.

Lincoln tactfully declined Mongkut's offer. He justified his refusal of the gift by explaining that the geography and climate of the United States were not conducive to elephants. Further, he pointed out that transportation in America was driven primarily by steam, stating, “. . . and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.”

For the complete story, go to <http://abrahamlincoln.quora.com/Lincolns-Letter-to-the-King-of-Siam-February-3-1862>. The story, "Lincoln's Letter to the King of Siam, February 3, 1862 may be found as a post to the "Understanding Lincoln" blog on Quora.
In his letter to King Mongkut, Lincoln's writing reflects character traits associated with his images as "Father Abraham" and "Honest Abe." Lincoln opened his letter to King Mongkut in plain, simple language. He wrote, “Great and Good Friend: I have received Your Majesty’s two letters of the date of February 14th., 1861.” This is in stark contrast to the elaborate salutation in Mongkut's letters, which read as follows:

By the blessing of the highest Superagency of whole Universe, the King of Siam the Sovereign of all interior Tributary Countries adjacent around in every direction . . . . To His Most Respected Excellent Presidency the President of the United States of America, who having been chosen by the Citizens of the United States as most distinguised (sp), was made President and Chief Magistrate in the affairs of the Nation for the appointed term of office Viz ÷ Buchanan Esquire who had forwarded an official letter to us from Washington dated at Washington 10th May Anno Christi 1859 which was Wednesday 10th night of Waxing moon in the Lunar month of Visakh, the 6th month reckoning from the Commencement of the Cold Season in the Year of Goat 1st Decade in Siamese local Astronomical Era 1221 . . . . Sendeth friendly Greeting; Respected & Distinguished Sir . . . .


The plainness of Lincoln’s salutation contributes to his image as “Honest Abe.” He does not attempt to exalt himself. Rather, his address puts the two men on a level playing field. In addressing the king as his “great and good friend,” he conveys a warmth that is characteristic of his image as “Father Abraham.”

In his first letter, Mongkut explained that he had misunderstood American protocol regarding gifts to the president, but that a “recent communication” had clarified the issue, and that he was not offended. He stated that according to Siamese practice, gifts given to a ruler were the personal property of the ruler until the time of his death when they would be handed to his successor. He said that when he had sent gifts to Franklin Pierce he believed he was giving a personal gift to Pierce. He learned that in fact “. . . all these royal presents were deposited and arranged in one of the apartments of state as the common property of the Nation that all visitors may observe them and that they may promote the Glory of both countries the United States and Siam . . . . for this We have very great Satisfaction . . . .” Lincoln replied,

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 tokens of your good will and friendship for the American People. Congress now being 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.

When Mongkut describes his understanding of American government and politics, he writes as a student practicing his knowledge. Lincoln replies in his Father Abraham role, as a mentor confirming and gently amending, rather than criticizing, judging, or patronizing the king.

Lincoln stated that he would send the king a gift, writing, “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.” As Honest Abe, he followed through with this promise. In March 1863, the State Department commissioned the American sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward to produce a pair of presentation swords for the two kings of Siam at a cost under $1600.00.
Two kings of Siam.......
For more on Lincoln as "Father Abraham" and "Honest Abe" check out "Lincoln's Writings: The Multi-Media Edition," edited by Matthew Pinsker at the Dickinson College House Divided Project website at http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/lincoln/

On February 3, 1862 Abraham Lincoln
signed a letter to Rama IV, King Mongkut of Siam.

Abraham Lincoln, 1863
Rama IV, King Mongkut, 1866
Photo Credit:
Abraham Lincoln, Sunday, November 8, 1863
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print
Persistent URL: hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.19191

Photo Credit:
King Mongkut (Rama IV), 1866, National Library of Scotland/Welcome Institute for the History of Medicine. Photo found at:
Clare Veal, “The Charismatic Index: Photographic Representations of Power and Status in the Thai Social Order,” Local Culture/Global Photography, Trans Asia Photography Review, vol 3, Issue 2, Spring 2013. Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.7977573.0003.207

Lincoln’s Letter to the King of Siam (February 3, 1862) is ranked as #128 in the list of Top 150 Most Teachable Documents at “Lincoln’s Writings: The Multi-Media Edition,” edited by Matthew Pinsker at the
Dickinson College House Divided Project.
Link to House Divided: Lincoln’s Writings
http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/lincoln

The quest of this project is to discover what the letter reveals about Abraham Lincoln and how the letter may serve as a gateway to further explore the Lincoln Presidency.

Transcription of:
"King Mongkut of Siam to President James Buchanan, 14 February 1861, “Translation of a Letter from King Mongkut of Siam to President James Buchanan, 02/14/1861,” National Archives Identifier 6923530, File Unit: Ceremonial Letters from Siam, 06/10/1856-03/16/1956, Series: Communications from Heads of Foreign States, 1789-1909, National Archives Online Public Access Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, 1763-2002,< http://research.archives.gov/description/6923530 >.

Transcribed by:
Sara Combs
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Transcription of
Second Letter from King Mongkut to James Buchanan, February 14, 1860

Transcription of: "King Mongkut of Siam to President James Buchanan, 14 February 1861, “Translation of a Letter from King Mongkut of Siam to President James Buchanan, 02/14/1861,” National Archives Identifier 6923530, File Unit: Ceremonial Letters from Siam, 06/10/1856-03/16/1956, Series: Communications from Heads of Foreign States, 1789-1909, National Archives Online Public Access Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, 1763-2002,< http://research.archives.gov/description/6923530 >.

Transcribed by: Sara Combs
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Letters from King Mongkut
to James Buchanan, or his successor,
February 14, 1860
In 1833, the United States and Siam concluded the Treaty of Amity and Commerce to promote trade relations and open commerce. The treaty was renegotiated by Townsend Harris in 1856; when the “Harris Treaty” was ratified in 1858, James Buchanan had succeeded to the presidency. On May 10, 1859 Buchanan sent King Mongkut a letter and the gift of 192 books that arrived in 1860. The king replied on February 14, 1861 through two letters. In the first letter he expressed thanks for the books. He also stated that he was sending gifts in return. Apparently, a contingent of U.S. naval officers appeared before the king on the day that he wrote the letter. Mongkut’s second letter, also dated February 14, 1861, explained that the John Adams had anchored at the mouth of the Chaw Phya (Chao Phraya) River and that Captain Berrien and officers from the ship “. . . came up to pay a friendly
visit . . . .” In the course of his conversation with Berrien, the king learned that there were no elephants in the United States. It appears that Mongkut then wrote the second letter offering to send elephants. In support of his plan, he noted that on several occasions stretching back four hundred years, elephants had been transplanted successfully from the Asian mainland to various islands, including Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Java, and Sumatra. The king outlined a plan for how elephants might be shipped to America. Mongkut decided to convey the letters and gifts through Captain Berrien rather than the normal channels of the the consul’s office in Bangkok. Demonstrating his knowledge of the American electoral process, the king addressed the letters to President Buchanan “or to Whomsoever the people have elected anew as Chief ruler in place of President Buchanan. & & & etc. etc. etc.”

King Mongkut of Siam to President James Buchanan, 14 February 1861, “Translation of a Letter from King Mongkut of Siam to President James Buchanan, 02/14/1861,” National Archives Identifier 6923530, File Unit: Ceremonial Letters from Siam, 06/10/1856-03/16/1956, Series: Communications from Heads of Foreign States, 1789-1909, National Archives Online Public Access Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, 1763-2002,< http://research.archives.gov/description/6923530 >. Note: “Translation of a Letter . . . .” is the first of two letters that King Mongkut wrote to President James Buchanan on 14 February 1861. Hereafter this letter will be cited as KM to JB First Letter.

King Mongkut of Siam to President James Buchanan, 14 February 1861, “King Mongkut of Siam to President James Buchanan, 02/14/1861,” National Archives Identifier 6923529, File Unit: Ceremonial Letters from Siam, 06/10/1856-03/16/1956, Series: Communications from Heads of Foreign States, 1789-1909, National Archives Online Public Access Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, 1763-2002, <http://research.archives.gov/description/6923529 >. Note: “King Mongkut of Siam . . . “ is the second of two letters written by King Mongkut to President Buchanan on 14 February 1861. At the National Archives Online Public Access site for the document, there are 11 images. The first 4 are in the Siamese/Thai language; the seven pages that follow are an English translation. Hereafter this letter will be cited as KM to JB Second Letter.

The court of Siam sent two versions of each letter: a copy in the Siamese language and an English translation. Some of the pages were edged with gold and were stamped with official seals.
First page of the second letter in Siamese.
First page of the second letter in English.
Did the King of Siam offer elephants to President Lincoln to help the Union win the Civil War? Think this through...when did he write the letter?
1 Richard Cawardine, “Lincoln’s Horizons: The Nationalist as Universalist,” in The Global Lincoln, eds. Richard Cawardine and Jay Sexton (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, 32.

2. Ibid., p. 41. See Note 16. The artist's drawing appeared in "Drawing of the Rear Parlor of the Lincoln Home, as it appeared in late 1860 or early 1861," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 9, 1861. See also <http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/liho/exb/Home/LIHO2_Globe.html> and <http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/liho/exb/Home/6616-Leslies-Rear-Parlor.html> and <http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/liho/rooms/rearParlor2.html>
King Mongkut’s letter offering to send elephants to the United States was published in newspapers. According to a contemporary source, readers were amused by it. The story of Mongkut’s letter ultimately surfaced in popular culture through Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam based on the memoir of Anna Leonowens who served as governess to the king’s children. References to the letter appear in at least two Hollywood films based on Landon’s novel—Anna and the King of Siam (1946) and The King and I (1956). Both films practice poetic license with the facts in a scene in which the king addresses the letter to Lincoln and dictates it to Anna. Lincoln had not been elected at the time the letter was written and Anna Leonowens did not arrive in Bangkok until a year after the letter was written. The 1946 film takes further liberties with the story by having the king, played by Rex Harrison, state
that he wants to send the elephants to help President Lincoln win the Civil War. More recently, the letter was exhibited by the National Archives in 1999 when the film Anna and the King (1999) was released.

Popular Culture and History
Margaret Landon (author) and Margaret Ayer (illustrator), Anna and the King of Siam (New York: Harper Perennial Edition, 2000), 133-134.
Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson, screenwriters, Anna and the King of Siam, John Cromwell, director, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1946. Ernest Lehman, screenwriter, Oscar Hammerstein, book of musical play, The King and I, Walter Lang, director, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1956.
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Press Release, September 23, 1999 < http://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/1999/nr99-122.html

Abraham Lincoln’s letter to the king of Siam is a brief document, but it is interesting for what it reveals about his character and his presidency. At a time when he was immersed in the Civil War, Lincoln was capable of turning his attention to other matters. The quiet, gentle, good natured tone of the letter is the voice of a president who has maintained his composure during a grave crisis. The letter is also of interest for what it reveals about how Lincoln chose to relate to an autocratic ruler. When Mongkut describes his understanding of American government and politics, he writes as a student practicing his knowledge. Lincoln replies as a mentor confirming and gently amending, rather than criticizing, judging, or patronizing the king.

The United States did not become a major player in world politics until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, there were foreign policy issues that confronted Lincoln’s administration. The letter to the king of Siam provides a gateway through which we may explore those issues as well as Lincoln’s interest and expertise in foreign policy.

Conclusion
Background Music Credit
Sheriff Bob, "The Fisher's Hornpipe, " Civil War Instrumental Music, Gilder Lehrman Institute, https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/civil-war-instrumental-music/id397462202?mt=10
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