As Well As The Art Of Diplomacy, There Are Also The Arts Of Diplomacy


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 & lie down in the ship—and send it to receive them. … When they arrive in America … let them with all haste be turned out to run wild in some jungle suitable for them. …

When the letter and presents arrived in the United States, Lincoln was President. If the handsome sword, the daguerreotype, and the king’s letter in Siamese and English were superb examples of the arts of diplomacy, so were the words chosen by Abraham Lincoln in accepting the presents while courteously refusing the elephants. In a letter addressed to his “Great and Good Friend” Lincoln thanked the king for his gifts and explained that he could not personally keep them:

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. … [They] will be placed among the archives of the Government, where they will remain perpetually as tokens of mutual esteem. …

As for the proffered breeding stock, Lincoln wrote:

I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of … 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 … has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.

Each succeeding administration conducted its own search for precedents and an examination of the Presidential conscience in regard to foreign gifts. When the sultan of Turkey presented President Grover Cleveland with a jewel-encrusted medal to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, the President sought the advice of the Department of State on the propriety of accepting it. Alvin A. Adee, Second Assistant Secretary of State, summarized a comprehensive review of pertinent legislation and precedent:

While Congress has on many occasions authorized officers of the United States to accept presents from foreign governments, I do not find … any authority granted to the President to receive such present for himself.

The medal was accordingly placed in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution.

Some Presidents applied to themselves the rule established by Congress for American diplomats and military men that an officer was ineligible to take possession of gifts only while actually in office. When Calvin Coolidge left office in 1929, the State Department sent him eight medals, a shield, a photograph of the president of the Irish Free State, and two elephant tusks from among the things it had been holding for him until his retirement from office.

Still, no permanently satisfactory position on the matter developed. After the inauguration of Herbert Hoover the usual search for a policy took place. Between March 9 and May 9, 1929, eight opinions on the subject were offered from five offices in the Department of State: the solicitor (three memoranda), the Office of Coordination and Review, the Division of Western European Affairs, the Division of Protocol, and the assistant secretary. Assistant Secretary William E. Castle’s final word betrayed a bit of irritation at such a teapot tempest: “It seems to me,” he wrote, “that we might as well continue to act as reasonable individuals. … Nobody is going to bribe Mr. Hoover.”

Finally President Franklin D. Roosevelt provided one practical solution to the problem of gifts from foreign governments when he originated the concept of a Presidential library. Principally established to house the President’s papers and those of individuals closely associated with the President and his administration, the Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York, is also the repository for many gifts of state. After the Harry S Truman Library was built in Independence, Missouri, former President Herbert Hoover decided that a similar arrangement in West Branch, Iowa, would facilitate the use of documents from his administration by scholars and the public. With the addition of the Dwight D.- Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, the Lyndon B.Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, and the John F. Kennedy Library soon to be constructed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there are now six libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Service of the General Services Administration. It has now become the custom for a President to place the gifts he receives while in office in the museum associated with his Presidential library. As the United States has assumed its position as a major world power the acceptance of gifts by the President has been increasingly taken for granted, and the Presidential library museums contain examples of the arts and crafts of nearly the entire world.