It was on this day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln said thanks, but no thanks, to an offer of elephants.
The offer came from the king of Siam, now Thailand, who had studied Western languages and science and wanted to establish closer ties with the West, including the United States.
His letter, sent almost a year before, came with a set of gifts, including a ceremonial sword, and an idea: if the king could send a few pairs of elephants by steamer to the United States, over time they would multiply and flourish in the forests of the United States, and eventually put to use by humans there, much like the elephants in his country.
The one catch with the plan was that he hadn’t figured out a way to get elephants all the way to the United States, but together the two countries could probably find a way to clear that hurdle, right?
Lincoln sent back a letter filled with thanks for the gifts and for the proposal.
He said that “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.”
But “our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant.”
In short, he told the king that because of the Civil War there was really no practical way to spare ships to pick up the elephants, and even if we could, our climate wasn’t really elephant-friendly… but thanks for thinking of us.
President Lincoln turned down that elephant herd very graciously, and that’s appropriate, because elephants themselves have good manners.
For example: elephants can hear each other coming from a great distance away.
If it’s an elephant they haven’t seen in a while, like a family member, they get so excited they start running toward each other, bellowing the whole way. And when they’re reunited, they flap their ears, click their tusks and wrap their trunks around each other.
Isn’t that just too cute?
Lincoln Rejects the King of Siam’s Offer of Elephants (American Battlefield Trust)
Elephant Emotions (PBS Nature)
Photo by Alexander Gardner, 1863 – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the James Smithson Society, CBS Television Network, and James Macatee via Creative Commons