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President Lincoln’s letters with Thai king displayed at new exhibit

Letters between former United States President Abraham Lincoln and Thai King Mongkut are on display in a new exhibit at the Queen Sirikit Textile Museum on the grounds of the Grand Palace thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. The embassy is showcasing 200 years of friendship between the two countries by putting historic gifts between their heads of state on display.

In one letter from 1861, King Mongkut offers to send two elephants, the national animal of Thailand which was then called Siam, to the United States as a gift of friendship after learning they were not native to the US. With the letter, he also sent a sword, photo of His Majesty with his daughter and elephant tusks.

King Mongkut wrote, “On this account, we desire to procure and send elephants to be let loose to increase and multiply in the continent of America.

“In reference to this opinion of ours if the President of the United States and Congress who conjointly with him rule the country see fit to approve, let them provide a large vessel loaded with hay and other food suitable for elephants on the voyage, with tanks holding a sufficiency of fresh water, and arranged with stalls so that the elephants can both stand and lie down in the ship — and send it to receive them. We on our part will procure young male and female elephants and forward them one or two pairs at a time.”

King Mongkut. Photo: Library of Scotland/Public Domain

President Lincoln, who had only been in office a few months after being elected in November 1860, declined, citing that the country had no need for the animals as it used the steam engine. He added that the US, “does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant.”

The United States was, at the time, in the middle of their Civil War. President Lincoln would be assassinated four years later in 1865 by James Wilkes Boothe on Good Friday while taking in a show at the Ford Theatre in Washington D.C. At the time, the Civil War was slowly coming to a close. The last shots of the war were fired in June of that year after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General (and later President) Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, in April.

The first ever official letter from a Thai diplomat to a US president is also included; the letter was written to President James Monroe in 1818.

His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn (or Rama X) of Thailand marked the bicentennial of ties between Thailand and the United States on 20 March. The King presided over a US-hosted exhibition called “Great and Good Friends” at the Queen Sirikit Textile Museum in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Many of the items included in the exhibit have never before been seen by the public and are being put on display in Thailand for the very first time.

The new exhibit features 80 gifts that have been exchanged between the two countries through their heads of state and other delegations over the past 200 years. On display are gifts from the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife, Queen Sirikit to leaders in the United States. Additionally, gifts presented to American presidents from King Prajadhipok, King Chulalongkorn, and King Mongkut are also exhibited. Likewise, presents from American presidents to past monarchs of Thailand are on display.

The exhibition will run until 30 June of this year.

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