February 12, 2019

12:47 pm

Lincoln Knew USA Was No Place For Elephants

Even though he is the poster president of the elephant-affiliated Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln knew better than to think that the USA was a suitable environment for elephants.

Honest Abe spoke truth to power in 1861 when he politely rejected the offer of a number of Asian elephants from the ruler of Siam (now Thailand) King Mongkut (best known as half the title duo in "the King and I"). Mongkut had written "...if on the continent of America there should be several pairs of young male and female elephants turned loose in forests, after a while they will increase till there be large herds as there are here on the continent of Asia until the inhabitants of America will be able to catch them and tame and use them as beasts of burden making them of benefit to the country."

In an 1862 reply to the king's offer, Lincoln noted that the U.S. had steam engines, and thus did not need elephants: “[S]team on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce,” wrote Lincoln.

But, as Peta noted in a President's Day blog, what was more impressive about Lincoln's reasoning was that he knew that the climate of North America would not be beneficial for the health and well being of the pachyderms. "In his response to the king, he stated that the country 'does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant.' ”

The online magazine Mental Floss notes that Lincoln's reply was a "master stroke of diplomacy": "By refusing the elephants, Lincoln’s government managed to honor the far-away king without taking on a complicated burden. It was a move that acknowledged not only the king’s respectful gesture, but gave him a much-needed nod. Mongkut realized that in order to survive, Siam would need to engage in trade with the West — and that kindness would go much further than the fear displayed by some of his closest neighbors."