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What Did Abraham Lincoln Say About the Elephants King Rama IV Offered for the Civil War?

Animals have found their use in military warfare during ancient and medieval times, sometimes even spelling out the victory for some. The use of animals on the battleground started to decline thanks to the advancement of military technology. But did you know that Lincoln was once offered war elephants to be part of his army during the civil war?

King Rama IV of Siam once offered President Lincoln war elephants to aid him in his battles during the civil war. Lincoln declined, stating that elephants could not adapt to the US climate and that his steam engine was enough.

Rama’s Offer of Elephants

On February 14, 1861, Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongut, better known as King Rama IV, sent a letter to US President James Buchanan. The king’s letter responded to the former president’s letter, which included 192 books of US government publications.

The king’s letter was among gifts he sent to the US president, such as a sword in a gold scabbard inlaid with silver, a portrait of himself with the future king of Siam, and a pair of elephant tusks.

The letter mentions that through interviews with American captain Berrien, he discovered that there were no elephants in the US. He stated that should a pair of male and female elephants be sent to the US and allowed to live in uninhabited places where an abundance of food and water are present, the US would be able to raise a herd. And that specific herd can then be tamed and trained to be used in warfare.

The king further explains how the elephants can be of great use for government projects like road and infrastructure development. 

Rama requested that the US president send a large vessel to transport the elephants should the president accept this offer. The ship should be fully stocked with food and fresh water for the elephants and stalls to which the animals can sit or stand. (Source: Duncan Stearn)

How Did Lincoln Decline the Offer?

When the king’s letter and gifts reached the Whitehouse on February 3, 1862, Buchanan was already replaced by Abraham Lincoln as president. Upon receiving King Rama’s letter, Lincoln noted that the king understood that Buchanan might no longer be the president, thus addressing it to whomever the president was at the time.

Lincoln was engaged in the Civil War. During this time, the invention of steam engines was at the nation’s forefront. Lincoln had to respond to the king’s letter, but his response should be well-written. He wanted to avoid unnecessary tension that may arise due to simple misunderstandings.

Lincoln did not see the advantage of accepting the king’s offer of sending elephants. The president crafted his words very wisely, stating that the government would not hesitate to accept the offer and receive the elephants. Still, he saw no practical use of the animals then. And that the animals might not adapt well to the climate in the United States. 

He then proceeds to write in the letter that the country’s most efficient mode of transportation was the use of steam engines, but further states that he welcomes the idea of having herds of elephants on American soil. (Source: Battlefields)

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