Imagine the American West populated with eleph…

Imagine the American West populated with elephants alongside buffalo

Shortly before the American Civil War the King of Siam (Thailand) sent gifts of goodwill to the United States which included a sword, a pair of ivory tusks, and a photograph of the King with his daughter. 

In an accompanying letter, dated February 14, 1861, King Mongkut said that he had heard that the United States had no elephants. As a remedy, he offered a gift of elephants—several pairs of them—that could be “turned loose in forests and increase till there be large herds.” The elephants would be useful in the unsettled parts of the United States, he continued, “since 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.”

President Abraham Lincoln graciously declined the elephants with the following letter

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.