Letter to the King of Siam (February 3, 1862)

Contributing Editors for this page include Sara Combs


#128 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

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HD Daily Report, February 3, 1862

The Lincoln Log, February 3, 1862

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Posted at YouTube by “Understanding Lincoln” course participant Sara Combs, August 2014. Transcript available via Quora.

How Historians Interpret


“He sat down and wrote a letter to the King of Siam, declining a gift of some breeding elephants. His majesty, eager to spread the benefits of Oriental culture to the New World, had offered the animals as a solution for the labor and transportation problem in America. Lincoln appreciated the spirit in which the gift was offered and answered: ‘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.’ The correspondence was published for generational distribution as a ‘white paper.’ People smiled when they read it. Good times must be coming.”

–Jay Monaghan, Abraham Lincoln Deals with Foreign Affairs: A Diplomat in Carpet Slippers (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1945), 217-218.


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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,
Washington, February 3, 1862.
By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
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