Connect with us

Thai Life

Looking Back: A brief history of Thai-US relations

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: Diplomatic relations between Thailand and the United States date back to the early 19th century. The United States was founded only a few decades earlier, when thirteen of Great Britain’s colonies in the Americas declared their independence on July 2, 1776.

The USA was a young nation, more concerned with preserving its new found freedom than becoming a great empire like Britain and France.

Less than fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the first American ship arrived in Bangkok in 1821. Ever since, the United States and Siam have maintained friendly diplomatic relationships towards each other, helped by the fact that the US never really had much ambition in Southeast Asia during that period. More worrisome were the Europeans who had maintained colonies in the region for hundreds of years.

After the arrival of the first American ship in Bangkok, more American merchants came to Siam to trade. Not many years later, an American named Captain Abel Coffin came across Eng and Chang, two brothers with an incredible anomaly. Eng and Chang (pronounced phonetically “in” and “jun) were twins. But, unlike most siblings, they were joined from the lower chest to the waist. Intrigued by what he saw, Capt. Coffin offered to take the boys back to America with him. In the year 1828, at only 17-years-old, Eng and Chang set sail for the United States. They became the first Thais to ever set foot on American soil.

Capt. Coffin toured with the Siamese twins and displayed them around Europe and America. He made a large profit for himself. However, in 1831 the twins left his custody and began touring the country on their own. They made quite a lot of money, and after eight years were able to buy a large piece of land in North Carolina. Both of them got married to two different women and fathered more than 10 children each, adopting the surname ‘Bunker’. In 1839 Eng and Chang received American citizenship. The twins died in 1874, having lived most of their lives in America.

The first formal treaty between the Kingdom of Siam and the USA was signed during the reign of King Rama III and the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Jackson sent Edmund Roberts as a US envoy to the court of King Rama III in the year 1833. Roberts carried a gift from the president, which he presented to the King in Bangkok. The gift was a beautiful gold sword that had an elephant and an eagle sculpted into the handle. The treaty that Roberts signed in 1833 became known as the “Treaty of Amity and Commerce”.

After Edmund Roberts, Townsend Harris was the next American envoy to travel to Siam. He arrived in Bangkok in 1856, during the reign of King Rama IV, and signed a second treaty with Siam in the name of President James Buchanan.

This revised treaty proclaimed that there would henceforth be “perpetual peace and friendship” between the two nations. The treaty also extended full royal protection to any American citizen that visited Siam.

The treaty paved the way for the appointment of an American consul in Bangkok. In case any American citizen breached Siamese law, they would be handed over to the American consul to be dealt with. Americans were also extended the right to freely practice their religion and establish places of worship.

They were also allowed to hire Siamese servants to serve their households. Furthermore, it laid out the rights of American traders, the protocols for ships entering the capital, and the tariffs on importing and exporting goods between American and Siamese merchants.

Abraham Lincoln succeeded James Buchanan as President of the United States in 1860. A year later, the American Civil War erupted and Lincoln was forced to enter into a long and bloody conflict against his fellow countrymen.

During the American Civil War, a letter arrived in Washington. Addressed to the US President, it was from King Rama IV of Siam. The King offered to send the president a herd of elephants so that they could be bred in America.

Because it was during the Civil War, many interpreted that the king meant to give Lincoln the elephants for use in the Civil War against the confederates.

However, the letter was written a few months before the Civil War started. Also, it wasn’t addressed to Lincoln, but to former president James Buchanan. It turned out that King Rama IV did offer to send a herd of elephants to the US president, but their purpose was not for war. It was to be used as beasts of burden and a means of transport.

When Lincoln received the letter, he was asked by an advisor what the elephants could be used for and in jest, he said he did not know, unless they could be used to stamp out the rebellion.

In his reply, President Lincoln politely declined the King’s offer.

“Our political jurisdiction does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant,” Lincoln stated in his letter.

It meant that America was not as close to the equator as Siam and that the cold climate would not be suitable for elephants to thrive in.

“And steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce,” Lincoln added in his letter.

Anand Singh is an avid Phuket historian. If you have any comments or questions about Phuket history, click here.

— Anand Singh


Get more from The Thaiger

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS
👋 Have your say on our Thailand forums
🔔 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
📺 Subscribe / Join YouTube for daily shows
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🐦 FOLLOW us on Twitter
📷 FOLLOW us on Instagram


Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Best of6 hours ago

Phuket’s 5 most family-friendly resorts

Transport7 hours ago

Transport Company announces bus services are suspended until August 31

Thailand9 hours ago

Thailand News Today | 29 provinces now on curfew, booze ban in Phuket

Welcome back to Thailand!

Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in Thailand - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages!

Insurgency10 hours ago

Volunteer ranger killed in grenade attack by suspected insurgents

Best of10 hours ago

Top 5 Spas in Koh Samui

Thailand10 hours ago

Hemp ice cream hits the Thai market

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Chon Buri11 hours ago

Chon Buri sets local order, restaurants in malls to only offer food for delivery

Thailand11 hours ago

Samut Prakan man dies in fire, possibly self-inflicted

Thailand12 hours ago

Royal Thai Police say bitterleaf can’t cure Covid

Coronavirus (Covid-19)12 hours ago

Tuesday Covid Update: 18,901 new cases, provincial totals

Thailand12 hours ago

Air Asia technician arrested for allegedly stealing electronics

Pattaya13 hours ago

“Pattaya Move On” reopening likely to be postponed as Covid cases surge

Thailand13 hours ago

3 metre long python caught near family’s house in Phuket

Thailand14 hours ago

Government says not to buy Favipiravir/Avigan online, says it might be fake

Phuket14 hours ago

Phuket bans alcohol sales at restaurants, issues order amid rise of Covid cases

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism5 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand6 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Southern floods, Face mask fines, Thai Air Asia woes | January 8